Callsen’s abdication was cunningly timed to circumvent an election cycle and allow for the all-Democrat Board to appoint an extended-term replacement. This pre-contrived trickery has been employed previously by elected Democrats in collusion with Party operatives in order to give a Democrat appointee an “incumbency” edge in a future election.
Curiously, one of the six applicants for Callsen’s Rio District School Board seat is Karen Bailey Combs, who also happens to Chair the Albemarle County Democrat Party! Combs, who has lived in the area only two years and has little-to-no education-related experience, neglects to mention her Party position in either her cover letter or application for the School Board appointment.
Although Combs, in her political capacity, is likely well known to each member of the all-Democrat Albemarle County School Board, she disingenuously begins her cover letter:
“I was motivated to contact you upon learning that County of Albemarle [sic] has an opening for a new School Board member, and I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself.” [emphasis added]
Further complicating the matter, applicant Combs likely was aware of, oversaw, and/or approved monetary donations from the Albemarle County Democrat Party to three sitting Albemarle County School Board members, all of whom are in a position to vote for Combs to be seated to the Board, as follows:
- $2,500 to Graham Paige, a Vice Chair of the Albemarle County Democratic Party and current Samuel Miller District School Board representative (10/6/21)
- $1,000 to Judy Le, Chair of the Albemarle County School Board and current Rivanna District School Board representative (9/11/23)
- $1,000 to Rebecca Berlin, current (appointed) White Hall District School Board representative (9/8/23)
Concerned citizens have brought this potential ethics breach to the attention of all members of the Albemarle County School Board; the Albemarle County Public Schools’ (ACPS) attorney, Ross Holden; and ACPS Superintendent, Matthew Haas.
In addition, the matter was discussed publicly and extensively on the October 25 edition of The Schilling Show, available for review here.
ACPS spokesperson, Phil Giaramita, upon hearing the Schilling broadcast, immediately alerted Board Chair, Judy Le, of the caller’s appearance on the program and of the subjects discussed. Giaramita, in an act of unfettered (and ACPS policy defying) political advocacy, emailed Le a draft response to counter the caller’s narrative that School Board members who directly benefitted from Albemarle County Democratic Party donations should recuse themselves from voting on Combs’s potential appointment:
From: Phil Giaramita <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Oct 25, 2023
Subject: Re: Fwd: Ethical Standards-Selection of Rio School Board Seat
Judy, [Redacted] was on Rob Schilling’s show today with this allegation and a plug for people to vote for the three candidates running against you and Rebecca as well as Meg Bryce. She and Rob made a pitch for people to write the Board on this issue and show up for public comment on November 9. If you are inclined to respond, I drafted a brief response for you to consider.
Dear Ms. [Redacted]:
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the point about a recusal being premature. There will not be a vote on a Rio Magisterial District appointment until December. A good deal can change between now and then. The appropriate time for a board member to decide whether to recuse themselves is when a vote is being taken, based upon the information that is available at that time.
Ms. Combs cannot be in violation of the county’s code of employee conduct since she is not a board member and its directive is prospective.
Beyond being unscrupulous, Giaramita’s proactive communiqué to Le, may have violated several ACPS policies that restrict political activity of School Board employees, to wit:
- Policy GBC-R, example of unacceptable conduct, B-17: Use of an employee’s work time, environment, position, access, or property to promote a political candidate or controversial issue.
- Policy GD: The Board also recognizes that school time and school property should not be used for partisan political purposes. Thus, in his or her political activities, an employee may not use his or her position within the school division to further a political cause.
Giaramita’s email reference to specific political candidates and specific political races appears to flout even a strict reading of these policies.
In an ironic twist, the “What We Believe” section of the Albemarle County Democratic Party website “deplores” secrecy in government decision making:
“We believe in open government and deplore secret, closed-door decisions at any level of government.”
The attempted secret operation of the Albemarle County Democrats and their affiliated Albemarle County School Board members, in this instance, clearly belies the Party’s “Belief” statement and their call for “Open Government.”