Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 14, 2013

Panel suggests change to ethics policy

Complaint against board member dismissed due to policy "loophole"

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — A member of the Cumberland County Board of Education was not in violation of the board's code of ethics when she spoke with a basketball coach regarding treatment of and playing time for her granddaughter.

However, the committee would like the code of ethics to be reviewed by the board's policy committee so that confusion over the possible violation is avoided in the future.

"We've concluded that, by policy, we can't make a judgment for or against because the policy contradicts itself," said David Bowman, 7th District representative and chairman of the committee, told Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative and the subject of the complaint.

According to the complaint filed by John Walker, head basketball coach for the Lady Panthers at Stone Memorial High School, Hutson asked to speak with him in his office on the evening of Jan. 31 in regard to the treatment of her granddaughter, a member of the basketball team.

Walker said Hutson did not identify herself as a member of the board but as a grandparent; however, he said he was aware of her elected position.

Walker said he developed team rules, which were discussed with all parents and players at the beginning of the year, that address how complaints regarding playing time and other matters were to be brought to the coaching staff. Those rules state those concerns should be raised by parents or the player. He said he discussed how, as coach, he has to make tough decisions for the good of the entire program, and that he is able to see players during practice as well as games.

Hutson said she went to Walker after being questioned by other spectators and students regarding her granddaughter's treatment, but did not tell her granddaughter or the child's parents of the meeting.

"He asked if I wanted to file a complaint. I just wanted this to be a talk. I told him how I felt," Hutson said. "He never really gave me a reason for why he didn't play [her granddaughter]."

Walker states in his letter, "I feel that not only was this even unnecessary but unethical in nature. My coaching integrity and judgment was called into question, which erased the line that separates professionalism, and ethical behavior from a concerned parent."

He discussed the meeting with his principal and was advised of his right to file a complaint with the committee.

"I just want to be left alone to run my program," Walker said. "It's not just about my basketball program. It's about our school system and where the line of professionalism is drawn."

Bowman, who has served as an athletic coach in the past, said he understood Walker's response but added such discussions of playing time and who should be played would be a part of the position.

"That's doesn't have to do with this, but when you're a coach, you're not going to make everybody happy," Bowman said.

The committee questioned if others were present for the conversation. Both Walker and Hutson said the conversation took place in his office between the two of them.

Bowman and Tim Claflin, committee member, questioned if this were a violation of Article III, Section 3 of the code of ethics, which states, "I will not criticize employees publicly but will make such criticism to the director of schools for investigation and action if necessary." However, Article V, Section 3, states, "I will refer all complaints and concerns to the director of schools."

"This will go to the policy committee and recommend 'publicly' be taken out," Bowman said. "After that, anything we've got needs to go to the director.

"Even though we're parents and grandparents, we're still a board member, no matter what," Bowman told Hutson. "That's part of being an elected official."

Hutson said she was thinking as a grandparent, but should have been cognizant of her actions as a member of the board.

Bowman will also ask the board to revise the membership of the committee, replacing Claflin, who is an employee of the school system, with a member of the community to avoid placing him in possible conflict with members of the board.