Shelton: Trotter should resign

By: Jim Shelton
School Board Trustee

To publicly call for the resignation of a public figure is not something done casually or flippantly. Those of us in the public trust must always be aware that decisions and attitudes affect our constituents in ways we may not be aware. Public service is not an electrical switch, something that can be turned on or off at a moment’s convenience. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we are on the job.
There is an expectation from the public that we take our roles seriously. An off-color or candid remark may be misunderstood by one’s audience. It’s in our collective best interest to avoid such incidents, and if not, then we are and should be held accountable for the words.
For this there is precedent in Pickens County. In the past few years, we’ve witnessed the removal of a city police chief and the removal of a school principal for comments not unlike those attributed to my fellow school board trustee Ben Trotter, which might not have been born of malicious intent but were heinous nonetheless.
What happened the afternoon of February 28 at Liberty Middle School (LMS) is known only to those in attendance. The record we have of that meeting consists of a document signed by faculty and staff members of LMS, and Mr. Trotter’s own recollection.
Parents of special needs children have called for Mr. Trotter’s resignation, and have requested board members to offer their opinion as well. After considerable thought and examination of this series of events, I offer my opinion to those in this county who have asked.
First, I reference certain policy I believe applies for this case. For example, policy GAMB states “One of the best methods of instruction is that of setting a good example.” Also, “Employees, while on duty and in the presence of students, will not use profanity.” Among a list of items in policy GAMB that are considered misconduct while on duty is this passage: “Using of obscene language which is unsuitable in the school setting.”
Policy BC (board member conduct) says “Confidence in public officials is based on a trust or confidence the public has in the integrity of its officials and how those officials conduct their business and themselves. To preserve this confidence, it is the desire of the board and its individual members to operate under the highest standards.” And “Treat all administrators, school staff, community members, parents/legal guardians and students in a professional and respectful manner.”
Policy BBAA: “The board officers may, where appropriate, counsel individual board members when it is perceived by other board members or superintendent that the individual board member is acting outside his/her authority and responsibility or abusing his/her privileges.”
To my knowledge, Mr. Trotter has not been counseled by the elected leadership of this board.
While the letter from LMS is signed and attested to, and is a single version, I am aware of three different versions of this incident from Mr. Trotter: 1) he did not say anything; 2) his comment was taken out of context; 3) he was referring to what other students call students who attend the Alternative School at Simpson Academy. It is unclear what Mr. Trotter’s actual recollection is of the meeting and what was said. Given that the LMS letter is consistent, and signed by more than two dozen people, I conclude this document to be an accurate record of the events.
To be believed, a person must first earn the respect and confidence to be taken at one’s word. There is overwhelming testimony from the principal and faculty members of Liberty Middle School that refutes all three of Mr. Trotter’s recollections of what happened on February 28. It is difficult to accept that all those who signed their name to a document attesting to what was said at the faculty meeting are wrong.
Mr. Trotter has, on several occasions, labeled the Liberty Middle School principal, Mr. Donivan Edwards, the Liberty High School principal, Ms. Lori Gwinn, and Superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt as being “liars,” and has offered that he can prove they are indeed lying. Thus far no proof of Mr. Trotter’s claim has been put forth. Mr. Trotter also claims to have taken a lie detector test, but has not yet released the results. Perhaps a receipt showing when, where and by whom this lie detector test was administered is appropriate at this time.
These were disparaging, disrespectful comments directed at, and singling out, the special needs students at Liberty High School. Mr. Trotter allegedly offered his opinion about the special needs students of Liberty High School, laying blame of poor graduation rates at their feet. Referring to these students as “a waste of money” and “taking up space” shows a callous disregard for federal law, which guarantees every student a free and appropriate education. It is also very demeaning to students for whom we, as board members, are sworn to provide.
My board colleague Mr. Gillespie is indeed correct when he says that he and Mr. Trotter have been the target of name-calling from their opposition. Anyone in public service is subject to the same attacks. We know this when we step into public service. The difference is that we asked to be here, we put our names on ballots and we hope to be elected. Our special needs students did not choose their fate, and cannot defend themselves from a school board member’s derogatory comments.
Mr. Trotter has maintained a combative attitude and demeanor with the people he is sworn to serve. Nowhere in Mr. Trotter’s self-defense have we seen any evidence of wrongdoing by other parties, any serious attempt at resolution or anything positive that would move the school district beyond this conflict. Mr. Trotter seems only interested in protecting and preserving himself, and is not acting in the best interest of Pickens County as a whole.
There is no doubt we live in a very sensitive society, and that disparaging remarks are frequently made about people of all races, creeds, gender and affliction. However, as elected officials we are held to a much higher standard by virtue of our position, and should lead by setting a good example. Refraining from such comments is expected of us. Why these remarks were allegedly made and what was on Mr. Trotter’s mind that day may never be known. I’m certain, at one time or another, each of us has uttered something aloud without the awareness of having done so. Maybe this is what happened on February 28. I don’t know.
What we do know is that the faculty and leadership of Liberty Middle School stand by their testimony, and that is sufficient for me.
This issue could have been resolved with a simple apology. However, the time has passed for that to be a sufficient solution. Mr. Trotter created the situation, and should be held accountable.
In the best interest for all involved; our students, teachers, employees, the School Board, the county as a whole, and for himself, Mr. Trotter should vacate the Liberty seat on the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees.

Jim Shelton is a SDPC board trustee and a former chairman of the school board.