Unprincipled: Agnor Hurt principal violating division political policies?

| November 5, 2013 | 12 Comments

schilling_show_logoAgnor Hurt principal, Michele Del Gallo Castner, may be in violation of Albemarle County School Board policy regarding political activities.

Castner—no stranger to controversial school-based political activism—publicly has endorsed current School Board member Diantha McKeel in McKeel’s bid for a seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

The wayward principal’s endorsements have been published in print on multiple occurrences and on McKeel’s campaign web site. Yet, these appear to be a breach of Albemarle County School Board policy GD, which last was amended by the school board (including Diantha McKeel) in September of 2012. To wit:

School division employees who engage in political activities on their own time must make it clear that their views and actions represent their individual positions and do not represent the views of the school division. [emphasis added]

Whether Principal Michele D. Castner’s endorsement of Candidate Diantha McKeel is a contravention of Albemarle County School Board policy is a matter for the board to decide—and, they should take this matter up.

However, the mere appearance of impropriety in this prima facie conflict of interest is cause for voter and constituent concern. McKeel, who sets the rules, and Castner, who is bound to follow them are skating on the ethical precipice simply because they believe that no one will challenge them.

Gauntlet thrown; arrogance in the law is no excuse.

About the Author:

Rob Schilling is founder of The Schilling Show Blog and News; host of WINA's The Schilling Show, heard weekdays from noon to 2 PM; husband; father; and community watchdog.
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12 Comments on "Unprincipled: Agnor Hurt principal violating division political policies?"

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  1. Rob Schilling says:

    Did Agnor Hurt Principal Michele Castner violate Albemarle County School Board political policy in endorsing Diantha McKeel for supervisor?

  2. Basically, yes. Anyone on the County payroll should remain apolitical.

  3. They should terminate her if only to make it clear to school division employees that you can't do it. At the very least suspend her without pay for 60 or 90 days. If my wife who is a teacher did it they would probably fire her outright.

  4. Ms. Castner's endorsement of Diantha McKeel does not list her occupation or her connection to county schools in any way. There is no law or ordinance that I've ever heard of that prohibits county employees from making a public endorsement of any candidate. I can see why you'd want to bar school division employees from having political influence, but once again it's just Rob Schilling trying to make something from nothing.

  5. Ken says:

    All McKeel’s done is to exercise freedom of speech. If there was any appearance of impropriety or prima facie conflict of interest you’d be able to show it. How could she have been pretending to speak for the school division when she didn’t even mention her position with it? Who would actually believe she was pretending to speak for the school division? I don’t expect an answer, because your style is hit and run, not stand and debate and defend your charges.

  6. Kenneth Clark So you're saying that anyone who works for County government should be devoid of political opinion or support their chosen representative in any way? Does that include policeman, firefighters, custodians, electricians, building service technicians? Or just teachers?

  7. blair says:

    Is it just government employees or all tax consumers? Can you serve 2 masters? If the government is paying you, are you acting for private gain or for the public good? Of course it’s a conflict of interest. If the principal’s name was given, with google and i-phone search, that’s tantamount to saying “Principal Castner.” You don’t have to say you’re paid from other people’s taxes if you simply state your name and say you’re only speaking for yourself. The rule makes it clear you must give a disclaimer but you don’t have to say where you work. In the private sector, if someone recommends a product without disclosing they work for the company, that’s dishonesty by omission. The conflict of interest is hidden. Remember the Rule of Law means the same rules apply to everyone no matter where you work or who pays you.

  8. Ken says:

    If the principal’s name was given, with google and i-phone search, that’s tantamount to saying “Principal Castner.”

    I disagree. If Castner got into a political conversation with strangers in a coffee shop, and they all introduced themselves, would she be required to identify herself to them as principal because someone might google her? So why is she required to here?

    If she gets into a political conversation with a next door neighbor who knows she’s principal, if she required to tell the neighbor that she’s not speaking for the school? Why would the neighbor presume she is? So why would anyone reading this petition?

    If the petition listed the occupations of its signers, Castner would clearly be required to state that she was signing as a private citizen. But having the job of principal obviously doesn’t make Castner the principal in everything she does, so there’s no sensible reason for anyone to presume she’s acting as principal here, so there’s no reason for her to issue a disclaimer.

  9. blair says:

    I agree with you. The rule is for interpretation like, what defines a “political activity”? If the teacher is talking about something unrelated, I would agree. But if the teacher recommends a candidate who would decide funding for the school where the teacher works, should that be disclosed? When I speak, I just say what’s on my mind. But if I comment on health insurance changes at UVa on the Schilling blog, I should disclose that I work at UVa. I would give the same disclaimer to anyone discussing the topic with me. Normally we’re taught in school that more information is better. Here we’re debating what information should be concealed in order to create a false impression, that there’s no conflict of interest.

    This rule may be a rare case where the government policy is good for everybody. It doesn’t matter who the teacher is politicking with, a group at the coffee shop or individual neighbor or letter to the editor. Anyone you talk to should be made aware if you “have a dog in the fight.” Would it be a better world if we treated everyone the same without trying to figure out their group status and how people in that group should be treated? The rule does not identify who’s being politicked, so presumably you should reveal your conflict of interest whenever it’s relevant. What prompted this rule in the first place? A desire to build trust with the community by erring on the side of transparency, maybe?

  10. Ken says:

    When I speak, I just say what’s on my mind. But if I comment on health insurance changes at UVa on the Schilling blog, I should disclose that I work at UVa. I would give the same disclaimer to anyone discussing the topic with me. Normally we’re taught in school that more information is better. Here we’re debating what information should be concealed in order to create a false impression, that there’s no conflict of interest.

    I think the danger that disclosure policies are trying avoid is not that employees should happen to influence someone else’s opinion on a matter involving their employers. The danger is that someone should think a high-placed employee is speaking for their employer.

    That’s why this particular policy explicitly states, “School division employees who engage in political activities on their own time must make it clear that their views and actions represent their individual positions and do not represent the views of the school division.”

    That’s why my bottom line is whether or not anyone could reasonably presume the principal was speaking for the school. As you say, its good to err on the side of transparency, but in this case, there was no place on the petition to do that.

  11. blair says:

    Oops! The policy says “AND”, say you’re speaking for yourself AND not for the school. So I was half-right. Good debate and exchange of ideas.

  12. Ken says:

    The policy says “AND”, say you’re speaking for yourself AND not for the school.

    Yes. Our disagreement seems to turn on whether the fact that she was not speaking for the school was obvious, or was not obvious and thus obliged her to refrain from signing a petition on which she couldn’t explicitly state that.

    Good debate and exchange of ideas.

    Indeed! Thank you.

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