Pity Freddie Gray.
The president of the Omaha school board decided to hone her mad JoePa skillz just when everybody -- and by "everybody," I mean the entire world outside State College, Pa. -- decided the late Penn State coach was criminally pathetic.
Consider this: You've just picked a new superintendent for Omaha Public Schools. Suddenly, your new hire abruptly resigns her job in Des Moines, Iowa -- weeks ahead of schedule. She contacts your board attorney. Something about emails. That they would expose an affair. Fairly explicit. A district email account. Public-records request from the Des Moines Register. Embarrassing.
Mein Gott! Mon dieu! What, oh what . . . what should you do?
Well, if you're Freddie Gray and OPS board counsel Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda, you don't bother to find out what exactly is in those "fairly explicit" emails. You take Nancy Sebring's word for it that the content is "somewhere along the lines of what most seventeen year olds are reading in Cosmo." You don't even check out what most 17-year-olds are actually reading in Cosmopolitan today.
Also, you assume that a woman who's cheating on her husband with a man who's cheating on his wife is being straighter with you than with them. After all, Eynon-Kokrda tells Sebring, “my thought is you have a pretty sympathetic situation.”
Most importantly, you and the lawyer take what Sebring, the naughty superintendent, has told you and make it into "just our little secret."
Even though Sebring has reached out to you and counsel because “I don't want anyone on the OPS board to be surprised by this situation in Des Moines,” you don't inform a single board member because. . . .
Because. . . .
BECAUSE you feel obliged not to after the fun superintendent expressly said she didn't want anyone on the Omaha school board to be surprised by the brewing scandal.
“We had an individual who ... we thought was being very open and honest with us about something that was a very personal issue, a very painful issue for the individual,” Gray told The World-Herald. “We believed that we had a contracted employee who was reaching out and was telling us the truth.”WHO IS working for whom here?
In a May 24 email to Sebring, Eynon-Kokrda wrote that she did not share Sebring's emails with board members: “I do not forward your emails because I want them arguably protected and/or not known to exist, per se, but I do advise Freddie of our contacts so she is current.”
In that same email, the lawyer wrote that Gray was the only OPS board member who knew of the Des Moines Register's public records request, through which that newspaper eventually obtained the personal emails.
It's rather interesting, in the same sense that his evening at Ford's Theater gave Abraham Lincoln a headache, that Eynon-Kokrda and Gray seem to lose track of where their primary loyalties lie. They protect OPS' wayward new hire to an extent she didn't even ask for, refusing to give the full school board even the slightest heads-up about her naughty-email problem in Des Moines.
They take Sebring's word for everything. In short, they try to keep her viability as OPS' new superintendent totally intact by aiding and abetting an ultimately failed cover up.
When she resigned abruptly from Des Moines in early May, Sebring said publicly that it was because she needed extra time to take care of personal matters, such as moving to Omaha and preparing for her daughter's summer wedding.UNTIL THEY did change that. The Register and the World-Herald not only ran their stories about why Nancy Sebring quit Des Moines so quickly, but they ran the worst of the emails, too.
The newly released emails show that after resigning from Des Moines, Sebring kept in regular contact with Eynon-Kokrda, who relayed information about those contacts to Gray as all three anxiously waited to see what the Des Moines Register would do with the volatile emails the newspaper had requested from the Des Moines district through a public records request.
The emails Sebring made public last week were sent between May 18 and June 1, the day The World-Herald and the Des Moines Register broke their stories online.
The emails show that Eynon-Kokrda and Gray remained committed to making Sebring the next OPS superintendent if she could survive the uproar of the emails going public or if the emails never went public.
The three of them planned how they would respond publicly should news organizations discover that the emails were the actual cause of her resignation from the Des Moines job and publish stories about them.
In a May 24 email to Eynon-Kokrda, Sebring wrote that four of the Des Moines emails were “highly personal and contain fairly explicit content (somewhere along the lines of what most seventeen year olds are reading in Cosmo),” referring to the women's magazine Cosmopolitan.
In the same email, Sebring offered to resign from the OPS job, telling Eynon-Kokrda: “I would rather bow out gracefully before starting my job in OPS, than be caught up in a scandal after I begin the job.”
She asked Eynon-Kokrda whether OPS would fire an employee who had done what she did.
Eynon-Kokrda wrote back that she would not recommend that Sebring submit an immediate offer of resignation, saying that “seems extreme” and “my thought is you have a pretty sympathetic situation.”
Eynon-Kokrda wrote that she knew of no OPS employee ever terminated solely for personal use of email, saying that OPS informs employees that emails are not confidential and that individuals must “use good judgment” but that sending personal emails has never by itself demonstrated sufficient poor judgment as to result in termination.
“The closest I've ever seen is where a principal involved with a subordinate at his school had about 50 texts and emails per day during school hours, over months and months (thousands of emails and texts on school phone) some of which proved he had inappropriately approved sick leave so she could join him on business trips,” Eynon-Kokrda wrote.
She wrote that if the situation “starts to really go south,” she would recommend meeting with the OPS board “to explain and provide them with the opportunity to circle the wagons.”
“Freddie will be in about the same place,” Eynon-Kokrda wrote. “If asked for comment, she will say it isn't appropriate for her to discuss your personal life.”
If pressed, Eynon-Kokrda wrote, Gray would say that while people shouldn't use work email for personal purposes that interfere with job performance, “she is unaware of any allegation that you have anything but a stellar job performance record, and your personal emails and private life don't change that.”
At that point, Gray ended up running away from Sebring like her feet were on fire and her ass was catching. A thoroughly surprised (thanks to Freddie Gray) OPS board ended up accepting Sebring's resignation from a job she'd yet to begin.
The emails were exactly what one would expect from a Cosmo "sex issue," which I presume is just like a regular issue of Cosmo (as read by "most seventeen year olds") only a little more so. Thus, "circling the wagons" wasn't a viable option, as we already had learned low "in love" Nancy Sebring was with her boyfriend's d***.
And the emails got better than that.
UNFORTUNATELY for Gray, the board president's ability to lie convincingly to the press just doesn't get better at all.
On June 1, Gray told the World-Herald "she had heard only 'rumors and innuendo' about why Sebring resigned. During that interview, she said she had not discussed with Des Moines district officials the circumstances of Sebring's resignation and did not know what was contained in the emails.
"I haven't seen them," she said then, "so I have no clue what they are, what they're not."
In a later interview, a World-Herald reporter asked Gray whether Sebring had been in contact with her or Eynon-Kokrda about the personal emails prior to them going public.
“No, why would she be?" Gray had said.
UH . . . lots of reasons?
Unfortunately, some people never learn that when you tell a big one, at least be plausible:
Gray and Eynon-Kokrda told The World-Herald this week that they would have acted differently had they known the actual contents of the emails.TWO PROBLEMS with this one render it a no-percentage assertion -- it requires Omahans to believe either that Gray and Eynon-Kokrda think they're really stupid, or that Gray and Eynon-Kokrda themselves are really stupid. Personally, I go for a third option: Yes, they think we're stupid . . . because they're idiots.
“She never characterized these as graphic, pornographic or in any way sexually embarrassing,” Eynon-Kokrda said. “She portrayed them as not salacious, as chatty, and as emails that would reveal that she had an affair.”
When Sebring wrote to Eynon-Kokrda May 24 describing the explicit emails as something a 17-year-old girl might read in Cosmo, that still didn't cause alarm, Gray and Eynon-Kokrda said this week, because they didn't perceive Cosmo as a raunchy magazine.
Make that complete idiots.
Here's Gray, back in June:
“For the board, this is about policy violation. It's not about the content,” she told The World-Herald after Sebring resigned. “These are things we tell our staff all the time not to do. It's a big violation to use company equipment and emails.”BUT NOW Gray defends her secrecy and her inaction regarding Sebring's emails by saying she was misled about how bad they were. That she didn't think Cosmo was "raunchy," so it couldn't be that big a deal.
But if "it's not about the content," as she said last month, who cares? Sebring admitted to doing, in Gray's words, "things we tell our staff all the time not to do." Which, she told the reporter back then, was "a big violation."
And certainly no rationale to help a sister out, which is exactly what she and OPS' legal counsel set out to do. In secret.
The other OPS board members ought to be furious right now. Beyond furious, actually. But the biggest problem the school system faces today is that I'll bet most aren't that upset at all.
After all, if they "circle the wagons," Freddie Gray might be able to survive unscathed as president despite having been caught in more than one big lie. Despite having kept her board, and the board's constituents, completely in the dark about the time bomb ticking away nearby. Despite having proven that her loyalties lie not with her board, or the voters who elected her, but instead with a fatally flawed would-be superintendent whose personal and professional sins finally caught up to her.
If the board circles the wagons well enough, maybe there won't be the unpleasantness of Freddie Gray getting what she so richly deserves -- immediate removal as president, accompanied by the board's demand that she resign her seat.
NO, that would be ugly. Firing the board attorney would be, too.
In that light, I'm sure Gray is banking on her colleagues being "incredibly supportive," just like Eynon-Kokrda was for Sebring, because this whole World-Herald exposé thing is "ridiculous."
After all, "hindsight is 20/20." Yeah, that's the ticket.