Staff photo by Tim Barber | The sun sets on the facade of the Hamilton County Department of Education.

A 'crazy right wing' school board?

A reader who sometimes pays even more attention to politics than we do recently wrote to us: "The next school board is likely to be crazy right wing."

The reasoning goes like this. It is quite likely that James Walker ("nuttier than Rhonda [Thurman, who is not up for election this cycle]," the reader wrote) will be re-elected in District 9. (Just say no. We already have endorsed one of his Republican primary challengers — Tate Smith.)

The reader further noted that three Republican candidates in District 6 "are far-right." (We endorsed the lone Democrat in this race — Ben Connor. That seat will be decided in August.)

The "incredibly awful Larry Grohn" will win District 8. (Not so fast. Democratic candidate Katie Perkins is holding more than she's showing, we think. That contest is in August.)

District 10 also has "three GOP [right-winders]." (But a Democrat and an independent will run against the GOP primary winner in August.)

Reader continued, "and Virginia Anne Manson ... insurrectionist who actually attended Trump's Jan. 6 speech ... will win Dist. 11." (Manson did go to the protest, her campaign manager told our colleague on the next page, but she did not go onto the Capitol grounds. Perhaps labeling her an insurrectionist is too harsh, but the mere fact that she was there at all brings into question her reasoning power. We think she should no more be a school board member than Marjorie Taylor Greene should be a U.S. representative.)

Our reader finished up: "Add incumbent Joe Smith to the mix, and there will be at least [seven] far-right, book-banning Trumpies on an 11-member school board. I don't think people realize what is ahead. Basically, Rhonda Thurman and her disciples will run Hamilton County schools. And no one is saying a word about this. Please warn everyone."

Thank you, reader. Consider us all warned.


Riding the 'paid leave' taxpayer train

Apparently Neal Pinkston plans to simply let his wife and his brother-in-law ride the taxpayer train as long as possible by not terminating wife Melydia Clewell's employment and that of her brother Kerry Clewell as instructed by state officials.

From our observation, it does appear possible Pinkston might lose his primary election. Perhaps he thinks he can just bank three-months-plus paid leave for his wife and brother-in-law? If he does manage to eke out a win over GOP primary opponent Coty Wamp, will he try to keep our dimes until he faces Democratic challenger John Allen Brooks in the Aug. 4 general election?

If he loses, it's because he shot himself in the foot with his defiance of the Tennessee nepotism law.

Pinkston hired Melydia Clewell in 2015 and married her in 2019. He also promoted the former television journalist from public information officer to chief of staff. They kept the marriage secret, but it leaked out and he then mislead county commissioners about who paid them — the county or the state. He switched them back and forth between payrolls, depending on who was howling the loudest: county commissioners or Tennessee senators and the state comptroller.

In February, the Comptroller's Office found Pinkston had violated the state's Nepotism Act no matter who paid them, and days later the state attorney general in a letter instructed Pinkston to terminate their employment on or before April 23.

When Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd followed up last week to see if the county was still paying for their vacations, Lee Brouner, administrator of finance, wrote that Pinkston's brother-in-law would come off the county payroll effective May 17. But he added: "Neither HR nor Payroll has received any information relative to a change in employment status for Melydia Clewell."

Pinkston's office disputes Boyd's interpretation of the state deadline, writing: "We have 60 business days to resolve the issues. Ms. Clewell continues to explore her options."

Hey, taxpayers and voters: What do you think?


More on Pinkston's timing ...

Speaking of DA Neal Pinkston, you also might have noticed Tuesday's news report that finally — after months of requests and years of obvious problems — he has committed to request a U.S. Department of Justice probe into use-of-force incidents by officers of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the department's operation of Silverdale Detention Center.

"Right now, it appears that Silverdale is one of the most dangerous places to be in our county, and that is unacceptable," Pinkston said in a news release. "Individuals at Silverdale have the right to be protected, and that right should be taken very seriously by every member of our justice system. Therefore, I will formally request that the DOJ investigate the conditions and operation of Silverdale."

Of course it's unacceptable. It's equally unacceptable to expect the Sheriff's Department — about which our local Black community has complained for years — to look into a traffic stop in which a Black Door-Dash deliverer recorded video of a white Collegedale officer shooting him with a stun gun for no reasonable reason. Pinkston said he has withdrawn his request that the sheriff's office look into that case. He now wants DOJ to conduct that probe as well.

What's different now? A close election maybe? Is Pinkston courting an NAACP endorsement?

He was awarded the NAACP's Thurgood Marshall Prestigious Award in 2019, but this year there is a Democratic contender for his seat in August — John Allen Brooks. What's more, his GOP challenger, Coty Wamp, has worked since mid-2020 as general counsel for the Sheriff's Office, and in March the NAACP asked for her apology after she said she could not support the organization's stance on law enforcement.

As police detectives often like to say: There's no such thing as coincidence.