By Randall Higgins
CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley school board member Mark Grissom became a target at a special school board meeting called Tuesday to consider whether to fire Schools Director Bob Taylor.
Board Chairman David Kelley called the meeting after Mr. Grissom e-mailed him to complain about Mr. Taylor's remarks at a meeting last Thursday and a radio interview Friday.
Mr. Taylor had announced his retirement and said he believed some school board members had agendas other than meeting school needs.
But the special meeting included a show of support for Mr. Taylor and denunciation of Mr. Grissom.
During an emotional two hours, all but one board member either blasted Mr. Grissom as being unprofessional and an obstruction to the board or called for his resignation.
Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 people signed petitions asking Mr. Taylor to reconsider, and school administrators and staff have circulated their own petitions, Mr. Kelley said.
Mr. Grissom apologized for his e-mails, saying they were written in anger and haste.
"Mr. Taylor, I am truly sorry that this evening's events and all that has surrounded it has placed a shadow over your retirement and all the good you have done," Mr. Grissom said. "Tonight I ask Mr. Taylor and this board of education, I am sorry, I won't let it happen again, and please forgive me."
Christy Critchfield was the first to respond to Mr. Grissom's apology. She said his conduct was unprofessional as a board member and as a funeral director.
"Mark Grissom told me private health information about a deceased individual he had buried as well as who they were related to in our community. This was the first red flag. I asked him if funeral directors were not regulated on releasing such information. He said they were but he knew that since I was in the medical field he could trust me not to repeat it. And I never did."
She also accused Mr. Grissom of calling her "a liar and not to be trusted" on a local Internet chat room site, referring to her with profanity. When confronted, he apologized, she said.
She said board member Troy Weathers told her that others had received the same information from Mr. Grissom.
Mr. Weathers said the information concerned his twin brother, a gay man who contracted HIV and committed suicide.
"We were best buddies, or at least I thought we were," Mr. Weathers said of Mr. Grissom. But he accused Mr. Grissom of using information about his brother as a weapon in an unsuccessful bid to become board chairman. Mr. Grissom was elected vice chairman for one year.
"You had no right to do that, Mr. Grissom," Mr. Weathers told Mr. Grissom, his voice nearly breaking.
Terry McGuire said board members repeatedly have tried to involve Mr. Grissom in reconciliation efforts.
"Any time a line of communication is shut down, it can only go one way, and that's not good," Mr. McGuire said.
Dr. Richard Baker said that as a former Navy commander, he sometimes had to move officers to other positions. That can't be done with a board member, he said, and asked Mr. Grissom to resign.
Only Tom Cassada refrained from criticism.
"I think it's time we moved on from this. That we put this all behind us," Mr. Cassada said.
Mr. Taylor said the board for the last two years has "piddled around on garbage" instead of devoting full time to education.
"It isn't just me and Mark. It seems it's everybody," he said.
By dealing with the problem now, Mr. Taylor said he hopes "my successor will not have to endure the personal agendas which distract us from the business of education."
After the meeting, Mr. Grissom said he accepted the criticism for the e-mails but did not expect questions about his career as a funeral director. He also said he had learned to pick up the telephone in the future rather than send e-mails.
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