By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
Marilyn Batista, General Counselor for Broward County Public Schools needs to go.
In fact, Batista should never have been promoted to the job of General Counselor.
Time and time again, Batista presents as ill- informed and she ill-advises the Board. Tuesday’s Board meeting was another example of her poor judgment. This Board can’t seem to get out of its own way.
The Board chair, Lori Alhadeff, was bold enough to bring an agenda item forward to pay an external contractor $12,500 to complete an investigation of two fellow Board members who are accused of inappropriate touching. Because policy 1100A is silent on-Board members investigating and sanctioning other Board members, from my understanding the only way that alleged inappropriate behavior can be investigated and sanctioned is through an external investigation.
Until the Board revises this policy, it is what it is (In the words of former Chief of Staff, Jeff Moquin).
It is not the Board’s responsibility to gather enough facts to determine whether one of their own is unequivocally guilty. That is the role of the external investigator. The role of the Board is to gather enough facts to determine that the alleged action warrants an investigation. It is beyond clear that both Board members, Allan Zeman and Brenda Fam should be investigated for allegedly inappropriate behavior. This is not to say that either of them is guilty. The fact is, however, that there are two separate allegations that are serious enough that they warrant further probing.
Nora Rupert, freely admitted from the dais that she herself has been investigated for harassment and was subsequently cleared. While uncommon, this has happened before.
But, back to Batista. Is it justifiable for her to be terminated with cause?
The fact that Batista advised Board member, Sara Leonardi that the allegation against Alan Zeman should not go further borders incompetence. Leonardi witnessed ‘Slapgate’ and was disturbed enough by what she saw that she approached her general counsel for legal advisement. From where I sit, Batista ill-advised Leonardi for thesimple reason that I have said repeatedly; Batista doesn’t know who she works for. The victims of ‘Slapgate’ told Cartwright what happened, and was she directed to tell him to say nothing?
Can you imagine this scenario involving a woman. Imagine a woman being slapped on her buttocks by a man. This woman reports this to her male boss. Her male boss then tells this female employee not to say anything, but to remain silent. Then this male boss uses this information to negotiate a lucrative exit agreement akin to blackmail. If this woman in this hypothetical example said that she was not offended, we would all be in a protective uproar. Where are the Me2 people? If this had happened to a woman, people would not be questioning whether she had to report it verbally, or in writing. The argument would be that there was an imbalance of power, and she was afraid. Her male boss would be investigated and more likely terminated for putting this woman in a position where she did not feel comfortable to come forward. People would be looking into criminal charges, and it undoubtedly would make national news happening in the sixth largest school district in the nation. The argument would be that the mere fact this woman even told her boss about the incident speaks to a level of discomfort and feeling offended and that is a form of reporting. She didn’t tell a friend; she told her boss who then told her to keep silent.
Remember, it was said that Board member Leonardi witnessed the encounter and was uncomfortable herself. Leonardi was so uncomfortable that she reached out to General Counsel Batista to inquire whether she should report this as inappropriate behavior. It is well known that sexual harassment can be established by someone who witnessed it reporting that they felt uncomfortable or offended. Did Batista ill-advised Leonardi telling her there was no there, there because there was no victim? When you look at, there were at least two victims… theman on the receiving end of the slap and Leonardi because she was obviously offended because she reported it to Batista.
Again and again, I say with the strongest conviction that had this been a woman, everyone who was even in the vicinity of this event would have been under investigation.
How long will this Board stand for Batista providing erroneous information to them that puts them in the position that they were in at Tuesday’s Board meeting? Be reminded that it was Batista who volleyed back and forth on whether Cartwright’s firing violated due process. It was her inability to do something successful that gave rise to Cartwright being “unfired” for a third time.
The fact that Zeman’s alleged victim told his boss (Cartwright), meant that he was not comfortable. Was hevictimized by Zeman, then Cartwright, then Batista and now this Board?
I hypothetically illustrated how this would be interpreted had the victims been a woman, however gender should not matter. ALL BUTTS MATTER!
My hat goes off to Interim Superintendent, Dr. Earlean Smiley for having the courage to bring these two incidents forward. Her leadership can restore the integrity of this Board… if they allow her.
Perhaps this Board should end the tenure of Batista effective immediately and find competent counsel. Both cases of inappropriate touch should move forward immediately.
We learned yesterday that there is at least one witness and a video of ’Slapgate’ and that this inappropriate touching between Zeman and the victim happened more than once. That is enough information to substantiate an investigation. The Board is getting too far in the weeds by wanting additional information. They have enough “cause“ to move forward with both cases.
The tabling and indecision we saw Tuesday is scarily like what we saw with the four-time firing and rehiring of Superintendent Cartwright. The Board collectively knows the right thing to do, but they allow partisan politics and pressure to get in the way.
I am sure that Governor Ron DeSantis is as pleased as punch because it looks like he might be able to appointtwo or maybe even more Broward Board members because as I have said repeatedly, this Board just can’t seem to get out of its own way. They make DeSantis’ job of dismantling schools boards easy. They are the laughingstock of all governing Boards. They are like the emperor with no clothes on. They are out in public naked and afraid, embarrassing themselves. I, along with other media outlets, have been trying for months to cloth them, but they are none the wiser. Naked is their new normal.
Ignorance is surely not bliss. It can’t be this difficult. It just can’t be.