Saturday, September 22, 2018

Griffin, Snively, Ferger, the intrigue continues

Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin is continuing to strike back at attack blogger Jason Ferger — where else? — on Facebook.

In a post visible by her 1,740 Facebook friends, Griffin displayed a photo to support her public statements that Ferger is a friend of fellow board member Melissa Snively. The implication, which Griffin stated outright at the Jan. 23 board meeting, is that Snively helped Ferger develop the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower page and even came up with the name.

Snively has neither confirmed, nor denied that allegation.

Griffin's Jan. 23 remarks came after Ferger stepped forward during audience comments and lit into school board members, one by one, for a variety of actions that included chairwoman Sally Harris's habit of showing slide shows to the audience at the end of every meeting. Snively was away that night. Her response later was that such statements were undermining the public's confidence in the district, which has far bigger problems.

The conflict continued this past Tuesday, as Ferger again leveled criticisms at the board and Griffin – breaking protocol – blasted him for printing false information on his site.

Deep into a post following the meeting, Ferger wrote: "Ms. Griffin stating that I'm friends with Ms. Snively is inaccurate. I am not."

From Griffin's post:

"See picture below because a picture is worth a thousand words…  Mr. Ferger is a liar and not even a good one."

Speaking later with Gradebook, Griffin said she is convinced that "Melissa Snively is operating in the shadows" by feeding information to Ferger that he would not find elsewhere. "And she's acting like she is innocent and that is not okay with me any more," she said.

Why would Griffin engage with Ferger at all?

As she explained  Tuesday, she made a New Years resolution "to speak the truth even if it makes people feel uncomfortable."  And, although it is protocol for the board to allow public speakers to express themselves without getting an argument, Griffin pointed out that this is just custom, not a firm policy.

Tension between Ferger's camp and district leadership has been ramping up since the January meeting, when Griffin publicly identified the east Hillsborough parent who had previously used the pseudonym  Mike Schmoronoff in his correspondence.

The Facebook site, which originated in the aftermath of the board's 4-3 firing of former superintendent MaryEllen Elia in 2015, takes direct aim at Griffin and fellow board members Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes, along with Superintendent Jeff Eakins and much of his cabinet. It also champions the cause of teachers who are advocating for their scheduled pay raise, which the district says it cannot afford.

Griffin said she could only speculate as to why Snively would support the Whistleblower's work. But she said it is worth noting that others on the board -meaning Snively, Lynn Gray and Tamara Shamburger – are never criticized, just the four who fired Elia.

True "whistleblowers," she said, are employees such as the four transportation workers who came to her in early 2014 with concerns about the safety of special-needs children. She offered them protection,  and that was why she ran for re-election, she said.

Griffin said she is glad she "outed" Ferger, and believes that speaking openly – as she intends to continue to do – is a step in the right direction.

A post last week about high-level administrators who are social friends of Stuart drew sharp responses from some of the administrators named and, in the past week or so, critics of the site have rebuked it increasingly in the comments. The shift has been so noticeable that one Whistleblower supporter suggested the board is paying "trolls" to defend them.

Ferger told  Gradebook in a podcast interview weeks ago that Whistleblower is a group effort, not solely his.

On Thursday, however, he went back at Griffin in a lengthy response on his Facebook page. He said he would have preferred to respond directly to Griffin's Facebook post. But he could not, because her page is private and she would not open the settings to him.

Ferger write that he and Snively used to be "fridge  friends," as he called it. But that ended when he became an anonymous blogger, and the picture Griffin posted is years old.

"So, the statement we aren't friends, and haven't been for quite some time, is not a lie," he wrote. "Saying that I am a liar is untruthful, and that would make you the, well, never mind."

He went on to question why his page is getting under Griffin's skin. He  urged her and Stuart to "get over Elia," and listed about a dozen issues he will continue to pursue.

Griffin's third term on the school board ends at the end of this year. Elected at-large, she has not yet filed to run for re-election.

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