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So sue me if this offends school board

January 10, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Libel. Slander. Defamation of character. He-said/she-said. Attorneys. Lawsuits.

Roger Clemens? No, it's our elected Board of Education.

I must have had more than a dozen calls and e-mails in the past week from people asking, "What in the world is going on with Bernadette Wagner and Jacqueline Fischer?"

Like I'm supposed to know? Who do I look like, Edgar Cayce? You figure it out, you tell me. All I know is that the mother of all catfights appears to have broken out between the two and, sadly, all there is for the rest of us to do is sit back and enjoy it immensely.

Frankly, it's about time. For several years now, the Board of Education has been humming quietly along, allowing the County Commissioners and most notably the City Council to provide us with our minimum daily requirement of silliness. At any given point in history, it's always been one of the three that's a mess and the school board is overdue to take a turn.

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Anyway, as I understand things, Bernadette is on the board and wants off. Jacqueline is off the board and wants on. A couple of years ago, they both served together on the board and - maybe; wild guess - something of a coolness developed between them during their joint tenure.

So during a recent public meeting, B. speaks up during board member comment time, suggesting that J. may be running for the board in a compromised capacity, seeing as how she performs contract work for the board as a proofreader. Obviously, you can't take money from a public body at the same time you serve as a member of the public body, because that would be too much like the state legislature.

So B. calls out J., but J. takes offense because she said she noted the potential conflict when she filed and offered to quit her editorial duties if she were elected, and subsequently did so anyway. And for good measure, she said she may sue B.

J's attorney says that "anticipated litigation ... will ensue shortly." Now, B. says she needs an attorney, paid for by the county, to defend herself from J. because of J's attorney's "threatening tone."

Well.

Where can you possibly come down on this one? I guess the courts need something to do, now that the Washington County Hospital deal has been settled, but still. You just hope they get a fair judge who will expeditiously rule that everyone involved is being ridiculous.

I mean, yes, technically, there are very good reasons why the public should be aware of potential conflicts.

But - well, a proofreader? Like what was Fischer going to do, take kickbacks on a truckload of black-market semicolons? It's like that line from "Alice's Restaurant:" "I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench, 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug."

But even so, I don't know that this is the serious, consequential grist that's worthy of a lawsuit; after all, we're not talking about a cup of McDonald's coffee here. I don't know that waving a flag about a potential conflict is slanderous. It may not be smart, but it's hardly worth tying up the court system for a couple of decades.

Fortunately, the full board rushed to Wagner's defense:

"The actions and opinions were those of an individual board member. They certainly had no prior support from me nor were they discussed at anytime by the full board," wrote board member Wayne Ridenour.

Whoops. So Bernadette's standing there saying, "You guys have my back, right? Right? Guys? Hello?"

That's kind of telling. Also telling is the phrase, "...discussed at anytime..."

Where's a good proofreader when you need one?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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