The silence is deafening and expensive

Published 8:31 pm Friday, March 2, 2012

It is a tough economy, one that has apparently deteriorated to the point that $122,500 does not buy one word.

At least, that was the case Thursday afternoon when more than 150 people showed up at a special called board of education meeting to discuss the next move in the Demopolis High School principal situation.

For the crowd in attendance at the meeting, the parameters of that next move should have been clear: find a compromise.

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But, much to the dismay of the people in attendance at the meeting, they were informed that their voices could not be heard on that evening because they were not on the agenda for the meeting – an agenda upon which many of them had sought a place through proper channels only to be denied.

The legality and fairness of all that aside, the most disgusting part of the exchange was that the discussion took place between the audience at large and board attorney Alex Braswell.

Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Al Griffin, who signed a three-year extension last week for $122,500 annually, neglected to say one word to the students, teachers, parents and other community members in attendance.

There are a lot of things that could be said about Griffin, some good and some bad. But his actions, or lack thereof, Thursday evening were nothing short of cowardly.

During Griffin’s tenure, the Demopolis City Board of Education has been clandestine at best and shady at its worst. At the behest of Griffin, the board has continually taken things into executive session that do not belong in and probably should not be allowed into such sessions. So hiding discussions and decisions is nothing new here.

But for a man who is paid six figures a year by the taxpayers of Demopolis to not at least acknowledge the concerns of those who are supposedly his constituents is a disturbing new low.

Over the course of Griffin’s tenure, I have heard plenty of complaints about his lack of communication with those who work in the system. Complaints are what they are, you take them with a grain of salt.

But when those complaints come with incredible frequency and from seemingly limitless sources, it must be admitted that there is likely plenty of validity to them.

So maybe Griffin is a bad communicator. That’s not a crime. It’s a flaw, but not a crime.

What took place Thursday afternoon, however, was borderline criminal. It was a superintendent making a motion to go into executive session without acknowledging the concerned crowd that was on hand. It was him flailing about as his motion died without a second. It was him turning to to the board attorney rather than facing the music as was suggested by board member Jim Stanford.

And, rather than show accountability to the people that make up the school system, Griffin turned to Braswell and asked him to do the talking.

And, in following suit, as the meeting adjourned more than an our later, the board informed the only reporter in attendance that he could talk to their attorney with any questions.

It may be too much of a generality, but “lawyering up” is usually something that is reserved for people who feel the need to protect themselves in some way. This board is full of intelligent, respectable people but, as a collective unit, it apparently has something to hide. At least, that is the impression given to the masses when it refused to acknowledge their concerns.

By contrast, high school senior Andrew Gwin stood in front of the board, its attorney, the parents, the students and the teachers and articulately and respectfully stated just a piece of his case as he implored the board members to read the letters and petitions the delegation in attendance had delivered.

That is an 18-year-old student with character, class, dignity and fortitude. He displayed all those things for free. By contrast, the leader of the school system took six figures to say not one word. No trace of character, class, dignity or fortitude in that inaction.

It is perplexing and dichotomous behavior from a man who makes it a point to cut out newspaper articles and pictures and send them to students and teachers featured in them along with encouraging notes that praise those individuals and thank them for their efforts. That is the behavior of a man who is invested in and concerned with students, teachers and their well-being. The behavior displayed Thursday was unequivocally the opposite.

Whether or not the board makes further efforts to keep Leon Clark on at Demopolis High School is entirely its own decision. Unpopular or otherwise, that decision will stand.

But what should really concern people in Demopolis City Schools is not who will be running Demopolis High School next year. Rather, they should question whether Demopolis City Schools will be run by Dr. Griffin or this unwanted Mr. Hide.