‘Hate truck’ apology handled in memoDelaine Fragnoli Managing Editor 1/19/2011
No public apology about the “hate truck” was forthcoming from Business Director Yvonne Bales at the January board meeting of the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD).
Bales had attempted to make a statement before her budget report at the December meeting, but Feather Publishing reporter Mona Hill protested, arguing that such a statement was not on the agenda and therefore violated the Brown Act.
Superintendent Glenn Harris and then-board president Brad Baker agreed and said they would make a note to put the item on the January agenda.
But the item did not appear on the January agenda and Bales did not make a statement during pubic comment.
Instead she issued a memo to staff, dated Dec. 16. The memo read:
“Regarding the current controversy regarding my husband’s truck:
“First of all, my husband and I share many common values. We both have strong beliefs about family and our country; however, as with most couples, there are some areas that we do not agree on, such as some of the slogans on his truck. These are the subjects that we have ‘agreed to disagree’ about.
“The one time I drove the truck to work he needed to take my vehicle out of town. The only reason I drove his truck was to get to work and do my job. Though I made sure the flags and writing in the window were removed, it was thoughtless of me to disregard the permanent slogans on the truck. I would never intentionally do anything to create a hostile work or educational environment. “Obviously, my choice has caused some to question my credibility. More importantly, it has cast doubt and distrust on the entire administration, the board, our Superintendent, and the district. I am profoundly sorry for the consequences of my action.
“I have worked for the (Plumas) County Office of Education (PCOE) for over 12 years. I have always strived to conduct myself in a professional manner, provide prudent financial oversight of our funds, and represent my employer in the best light possible. I would never intentionally discredit PCOE or PUSD, and look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the county, district, board and Superintendent.
“My apology is heartfelt and I hope you will accept it as such.”
Superintendent Harris issued his own memo to staff Dec. 17 in which he defended the district’s handling of the situation:
“Several weeks ago an employee working at the district office drove a truck to work with offensive language attached to the vehicle. When this was brought to the attention of the superintendent, the employee was asked immediately to refrain from driving the truck onto district property until district counsel could review the various material on the truck and make a recommendation for course of district action. The employee was apologetic for any ill feelings that may have been created and immediately honored the district’s request.
“After counsel reviewed the material, in association with legislative and case law, the district was advised that the language on the vehicle crossed the line and violated school district rights. The district, once informed, immediately issued a directive notifying the employee the truck would no longer be allowed on district property as long as the objectionable print content was on the truck. The employee has cooperated fully with this requirement.
“Since then various people have questioned if the district could do more regarding the truck within the community. The answer is that the district’s rights end at its property line.
“In spite of some people’s request for the district to dismiss the employee, we do not believe this is the appropriate course of action and most likely would be a violation of an employee’s rights.
“We have over 300 employees in this district and county office of education. Everyone one (sic) of us has various opinions and beliefs about issues in life regarding religion, abortion, race, gender preferences etc. It is not the district’s job to judge employees based on their beliefs. In fact, it is upon us all to ensure that we protect the rights of individuals for holding the various beliefs they cherish — whether we find the beliefs objectionable or agreeable with how we live our lives.”
Piers Strailey, representative of the Plumas County Teachers Association, characterized the two memos as “revisionist.”
He continues to argue that the district did not appropriately handle the formal complaint he filed over the truck.
In a statement made during public comment at the January meeting, he said the district had not held an investigation within the allotted time frame of five days; that it did not interview him (the complainant) or J.C. Eaglesmith, the staff member who was allegedly discriminated against; and that its interview of Plumas County Community School students was inadequate.
In a marked contrast to the December meeting, no one other than Strailey commented on the truck during the January meeting.