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Staff photo by Tim Barber The Cleveland City School Board begins Friday's meeting with prayer before making a decision to terminate Director Martin Ringstaff in Cleveland.
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Robin Smith

No, leaders are not expected to be perfect. No, leaders, as defined as those in a position of authority or position of superiority in a specific field or business, don't have to pass a morality test.

However, the public recently has been hit with news stories that feature a common theme: leaders who either aren't capable of leading, who refuse to lead or are disqualified to lead based on their bad behavior.

Headlines just in the last month involve absent school officials in an alleged student rape with many unanswered questions about the incident; a series of stories about the questionable behavior in Tennessee's House of Representatives related to female subordinates and co-workers; and a freshly resigned school district superintendent who originally demanded law enforcement investigate a "fraudulent" social media account, only to admit the sexual, sordid exchanges with a female other than his wife were indeed his own.

First, if you're on a school trip and a young man is violated in such a violent manner requiring medical attention at the hospital — twice — where were those demanding the assault to stop? What adult couldn't understand that allowing the obvious offenders to continue to play in a basketball tournament was inappropriate? Instead, why weren't all involved in the trip immediately loaded up and returned home?

In Tennessee's capitol, a constant drip-drip-drip of scandalous details involving former Republican House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham has exploded statewide. This "leader" has been alleged to have sent sexually explicit communications to female lobbyists and younger interns who, while free to reject advances, work in an environment where their jobs mandate interaction with this "leader." Other salacious details lie just beneath the surface around Durham, who recently resigned his leadership post but, again, serves as another model of "what-not-to-be" in any position of authority.

Then, there's the cartoonish event in Cleveland involving Cleveland Schools Superintendent Martin Ringstaff, who announced his resignation Friday. A public relations fiasco resulted after Martin's recent verbal explosion opposing parental school choice legislation that would have absolutely no impact on his school district, followed by his attendance as the 2015 Superintendent of the Year at the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents' $15,000-plus Nashville lobbying party. Then, Ringstaff returned home to rustle up the Cleveland police to file charges against an anonymous Twitter account holder posting sexually explicit messages attributed to him.

Whew! It turns out those messages were not fraudulent. They were actually screenshots of messages Ringstaff, married, sent to an unidentified female that included graphic personal photos and a request for her to attend a school board meeting wearing nothing but an overcoat.

Let's sum this up.

We're all born with a moral compass. Some choose to follow it — those are members of society equipped to function with decorum, decency and value.

To the rest who ignore their moral compass: Please don't run for office or accept a position of leadership where we'll have to endure your inappropriate judgment or inability to behave decently.

Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, is owner of Rivers Edge Alliance. She also works with political candidates, including Hamilton County Commissioner Marty Haynes and Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz.

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