Goldman filed police complaint at board meeting

Call followed closed-door session on Tata

khui@newsobserver.comOctober 24, 2012 

Minutes after a heated closed-door debate by the Wake County school board over firing former Superintendent Tony Tata, school board member Debra Goldman reported to Cary police that she had been threatened by an “acquaintance.”

A Cary police report from Sept. 25 doesn’t name the person Goldman complained about, and police declined Wednesday to identify the person. But other board members say the closed session ended with a sharp exchange between Goldman and board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton.

Minutes later, the board reconvened publicly and voted to fire Tata, with Sutton and four other Democrats prevailing over the strong objections of Goldman and the three other Republicans.

Efforts to reach Goldman on Wednesday were unsuccessful, but in a email Oct. 2 to board members, she said she concurred with fellow GOP board member Deborah Prickett’s description of Sutton’s behavior at the meeting as “offensive and threatening.”

In an interview Tuesday, Prickett said that at the closed-session discussion Sept. 24 on firing Tata, Sutton had told the GOP members that he and the Democratic members were “going to kick your asses.” The next day, Prickett said, Sutton got out of his seat, leaned over toward Goldman, clenched his fists and loudly said to her, “Shut the (expletive) up!”

Prickett said Goldman was “really shocked” by Sutton’s statement.

If Sutton was the object of Goldman’s complaint, he would be the second board member Goldman has implicated in criminal complaints to the Cary police. In 2010, she named fellow Republican Chris Malone as a possible suspect in a burglary of her home. He was later cleared. Records show Goldman and her family were involved in at least three dozen incidents since January 2010 that have required assistance from or investigation by Cary police.

The board is scheduled to convene Tuesday for its first full meeting since news reports detailed the police report in which Goldman implicated Malone. The nine-member board oversees the nation’s 16th largest school system and a budget of more than $1 billion.

Threats disputed

A police report on the alleged threat shows that Goldman went to a Cary police officer assigned to the school board meeting and filed a complaint of simple assault – communicating threats. The report lists the location of the incident as school board headquarters. The complaint is dated for the time period between the end of the closed session about 4 p.m. and when the board returned for the vote.

The incident report shows that police closed the investigation and disposed of the case as “unfounded.”

On Wednesday, Sutton denied taking any threatening action toward Goldman or making an unprovoked rejoinder. He asked whether he was singled out as the only African-American male on the board.

In an email to Prickett, board Chairman Kevin Hill noted that another board member also stood and spoke in a loud voice at the meeting, and the outbursts from both were not acceptable. Hill did not return a call Wednesday and declined comment Tuesday via email.

“Don’t you think it would be awfully weird for someone to yell at someone to ‘shut up’ and it be completely unprovoked?” Sutton said Wednesday. “If I am the only one that is singled out, but clearly through her comments and emails that others were engaged in similar behavior, does it not occur to you that this may be racial?”

Democratic board member Jim Martin said Wednesday no one was threatened.

“At no time during any of the board meetings was safety an issue for anyone,” Martin said. “So (during) the exchange between Sutton and Goldman, from my perspective, and I was there, safety was never an issue.”

In Goldman’s June 2010 burglary complaint, she listed Malone as a possible suspect in the theft of $130,000 worth of jewelry, cash and coins from her home. During the investigation of the break-in, the police report shows that Malone said he and Goldman had a physical relationship, while she maintained she had rebuffed Malone’s romantic advances.

Both Goldman and Malone are married, but Goldman has since become estranged from her husband.

Goldman is the Republican candidate for state auditor, while Malone is the GOP standard-bearer for the District 35 state House seat.

Intense sessions

Sutton and Prickett said in interviews that the two days of closed-door discussions on firing Tata were intense. The board members learned later that shouting was audible from inside the meeting room.

“The discussion was very heated and very sharp because you were talking about somebody’s job, somebody’s livelihood,” Prickett said.

Sutton said the threats he recalled were from Republican board members who said firing Tata would doom a school construction bond issue that school leaders hope to put before voters in 2013.

“People’s emotions were running high,” Sutton said. “People had strong opinions about what was going on.”

Board members gave conflicting accounts of whether the discussions crossed the line into inappropriate behavior.

“In the last two closed-session board meetings, there have been multiple unprovoked, offensive and threatening outbursts by Vice Chairman Keith Sutton,” Prickett said Sept. 30 in an email to Hill. “As Chair, you have done nothing so far to address this situation, and there have been no apologies issued. This is very concerning.”

Martin replied in an email that it was a “nonissue” because “Sutton was not the only member, nor the first member, to issue an ‘offensive and threatening’ outburst.”

Goldman responded to Martin in an email in which she called it “degrading” to say it was a nonissue.

“I would like to know what will be done to assure that this level of elevation is dealt with,” Goldman wrote. “She is not the only one that is uncomfortable with the concept of going into closed session until this is handled.”

In an Oct. 1 email to board members, Hill wrote that he considered “this matter closed.”

“I am asking all Board members to remember that we are professionals and that we must work together in a civil manner, and the behaviors demonstrated by a few members reflects negatively on all members,” Hill wrote.

Prickett disagreed that the matter should be closed.

“I hope your intention is not to just sweep these reoccurring and escalating incidences under the rug,” Prickett wrote in an email to board members. “I do not consider this matter closed, and I am expecting an appropriate resolution.”

Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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