“Friendly Incumbent” or “Friendly Fire?”

Today at 5 PM, Jefferson County Teachers’ Association (JCTA) triennial general elections will draw to a close. Following a contentious campaign cycle, a diverse group of teacher members vying for more than a dozen open seats on the Board, (including the four key leadership positions of President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer), will learn how they fared against entrenched white incumbents who appear to be willing to stop at nothing to remain in power. 

First, a little history:

This isn’t the first time in our nation’s history union leaders have attempted to usurp the wills and voices of their rank-and-file members using mob-like mentalities and bullying tactics. In fact, the Landrum Griffin Act of 1959 came about as the labor movement was under intense Congressional scrutiny for corruption, racketeering, and other misconduct.

The new law:

established a code of conduct guaranteeing certain rights to union members within their union, and imposed reporting requirements on unions, union officers, employers, and consultants.

This is also not the first time in recent history powerful third-party organizations in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) have been accused of bullying, intimidation, abuse of power and tampering with elections and outcomes. Following numerous anomalies chronicled in this series of articles regarding numerous controversial PTA elections, in July of 2019, I spoke at a JCPS Board of Education meeting about the need for greater oversight of external organizations.

Watch the video below:

Unfortunately, being on the receiving end of mud-slinging from bourgeois elites and their enablers is nothing new. Since before our founding in July of 2015, Dear JCPS leaders and members have been demanding accountability and transparency from district leaders. Although some perceived the “drama” as unpleasant, deterring them from wanting to get involved, pushback from those loyal to corrupt administrators is reminiscent of those protecting status quo under Dr. Hargens. Yet, if you ask teachers today, most would say they approve of how that turned out.

A rally on the steps of Van Hoose, spearheaded by Dear JCPS, called for Hargens’ resignation which came shortly thereafter, a full two years before her contract was set to expire.

Similarly, the removal of venture capitalist David Jones, Jr. from the JCPS Board of Education in 2016, can also be attributed to actions of grassroots groups, not the teachers’ union, as most believe. In fact, the union’s political action committee (PAC), Better Schools Kentucky, was too chicken to go up against Jones, so instead they remained silent in that race.

Election Tampering?

The recent botched election for Better Schools Kentucky, the union’s political action committee, which directs endorsements, funds and volunteers to candidates using members’ dues money, wasn’t the first election that the union President attempted to have undue influence over. 

School Board Race Interference

Another example of how the JCTA President may have manipulated elections behind the scenes took place in August of 2018. On the filing deadline for the JCPS School Board race, I received text messages from an allied stakeholder. He was thinking about throwing his hat into the ring and wanted to know if I thought Linda Duncan was a board member who needed to be replaced.

Recalling numerous culturally inappropriate and insensitive comments she’s made over the years, I responded with an unequivocal “Yes!,” and an intense series of phone calls and text messages ensued, given that the deadline was only a few hours away. After advising my friend and potential candidate what he needed in order to file, I proceeded to notify the teachers’ union president that someone had stepped up to take Duncan’s place, assuming he would share my excitement.

I remained in contact with the potential candidate the remainder of the afternoon, helping him think through the logistics about how to obtain the necessary signatures, and deliver the required forms (and possibly meeting a constituent at the clerk’s office for a last minute signature), before the early afternoon deadline.

I recounted this incident in a recent 4-hour “tell-all” Facebook livestream, but I wanted to blog about it here, as well, because I believe the public deserves to know the truth. Among other things, I believe the 20-year president (a condition that came as the result of removing term limits shortly after being elected to the top seat) of arguably the state’s most powerful union, did us all a disservice by dissuading an amazing social and racial justice advocate, union leader, parent and taxpayer from trying to serve his community.

Perhaps the “head’s up” text message I sent to this powerful leader was my own undoing, but it isn’t the first time McKim has earned negative press for interfering with JCPS school board elections. Another incident involved recruitment of a tea-party candidate to claim he lived in Debbie Wesslund’s district in order to run against what must have been considered an “unfriendly incumbent.”

After my friend and concerned stakeholder was convinced to pull out of filing at the 11th hour, he stopped communicating with me, and instead posted this vague status on Facebook about averting a close call. 

The reasoning for the change of heart, according to sources, was that he was told by the JCTA President that Duncan was a “friendly incumbent.” He told him that fellow union folks needed to stay in their own lanes (my friend was a leader in a union that represents members in the communication industry, not education, after all) and apparently amassed his power to convince a legitimate, concerned constituent of Linda Duncan’s, to abort the filing process.

Friendly to whom???

Friendly to JCTA and JCPS executives and electeds, perhaps? Because many of the grassroots groups, including Dear JCPS, LSURJ, and The Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Black Lives Matter Louisville did not consider Duncan to be friendly to Black, brown, and  LGBTQ+ students and teachers. Many had repeatedly witnessed and expressed disdain for culturally inappropriate comments for which Duncan was notorious.

Many of these same  grassroots groups, as well as the League of Women Voters Louisville, had also filed to be intervenors in the state takeover hearing, because we knew the truth and we welcomed our “day in court.” Many now realize what the JCTA President and his insiders must have meant by “friendly” was that Duncan favored a “compromising” stance on the hostile state takeover that had been fraudulently thrust upon us by an unethical state education commissioner and board. The union president and other district leaders clearly preferred a board member who they could rely on to cast the deciding vote that would prevent the state takeover negotiations from ever making it to a hearing.

Why Are You Telling Us Now?

We believe a handful of JCTA leaders have repeatedly interfered with the democratic election processes, because they have a vested interest in continuing to bury the seeds of truth. And we think it’s important that the more than 6,000 dues-paying members have an opportunity to do their own research before deciding who to vote for in the election.

The People’s Agenda Education Committee and Dear JCPS have endorsed teachers RaShauna Tyson for President, Kumar Rashad for Vice President, Tyra Walker for Secretary and Dr. Randy Wieck for Treasurer.

#ItsOurTimeJCTA #JusticeForBreonna #JusticeForDaquan #BlackJCPSStudentsMatter #BlackJCPSTeachersMatter

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