Bernadette Nutall is a master at certain things, one of which is orchestrating media coverage to her liking. She leaks documents, she demands documents that days later are requested by media in freedom of information act requests (in very specific language), and she gets ahead of stories. Really, she should be making Tony Robbins-kinda money leading media-training seminars. She’s brilliant at it.
The latest example was the coverage of the Coggins report that sought to determine if Nutall had violated school board policy in three instances. The reporting on this document has been consistent: Nutall was vindicated. This from today’s story in the Dallas Morning News:
The investigation did not substantiate the harassment claims and dismissed reports that she acted unprofessionally with two other DISD employees. The report said those employees didn’t believe their interactions with Nutall warranted a review.
Sounds awesome for Nutall. Except that it’s not true.
We can all read along together — the DMN‘s scribd version can be found here — but let’s go ahead and highlight and amplify the two main takeaways you should have here:
1. That this report doesn’t vindicate Nutall because it takes no stance on the allegations, pro or con, and …
2. That the untold story of the report is that it contains an eyewitness report from a friend of Nutall’s that confirms Nutall was “loud and disorderly” during the infamous Dade incident, and that Mike Miles’ actions to have her removed were “appropriate.”
Lets get to the details. What the Coggins report says, on its very first page (after the cover page), is that it was asked “to investigate three written statements by District employees regarding alleged interactions with Dallas ISD Trustee Bernadette Nutall. We were asked to determine whether any violation of Dallas ISD Board policy had occurred.”
Got that? This investigation was very narrow in scope. And under these policies, “harassment” and “bullying” carry very specific definitions relating to actions taken because of someone’s race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientations, etc. So what did it find? It found no such thing occurred, right? No.
The report made three conclusions:
- It found there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of board policy violation in the first complaint. (Not surprising. This was a he said, she said, which we’ll detail.)
- It made no finding in the second complaint because the person who submitted the allegation, an admitted friend of Nutall’s, withdrew his complaint as soon as investigators told him he could do so (i.e., the report did not say whether the statement was true or not).
- It made no finding in the third complaint because the person making the allegations — who first submitted them anonymously — withdrew them rather than have her name attached (i.e., the report did not say whether the statement was true or not). The report found the statement did raise governance issues, but those were outside the scope of the investigation.
So, the report did not fail to substantiate the harassment claims. It said it did not know if harassment occurred in the first case (technically, if you want to call that failing, sure; it also failed to disprove the claim, too), and it made no determination whether harassment occurred in the following two claims. The report also did not dismiss those last two claims. It chose to make no determination on them. Yes, that’s a lawyerly difference. But this is a legal document that makes such distinctions throughout. These are important caveats. It doesn’t fit an easy narrative, though, so this sort of nuance is largely ignored.
Now you’re saying, Oh, come on, Eric. We’re not lawyers. We can talk about it like normal human beings and say what really happened here. Miles took his shot at Nutall and missed. It’s game over.
First, you’re right. We’re not lawyers here. So let’s look at the rest of the report and figure out what really happened. Second, let’s examine if this was really a Miles attempt to get Nutall or proper procedure.
• First allegation: Tonya Sadler Grayson, an exec director in Human Capital Management (HR), gave a statement that you can read in the full report. Let’s take some snippets from her allegation:
In the hallway at a board briefing, Grayson says Nutall “accused her of ‘treating people like trash’ and warned her to watch her back.” She told Grayson, “You’re one of them.” Later, she approached trustee Lew Blackburn and Grayson in the executive dining area and said the two “must be doing something.” [Ed note: A B.S. claim by Nutall.] Nutall then said that Grayson and other HCM employees were “new news.” When asked to explain, Nutall said, “Do you know what a trick is — it’s like you.” [Ed note: A “trick” is a slang term that can mean anything from a whore or a tease, but in this case most likely meant someone who isn’t “street” or “black” enough, as we’ll see.] Nutall said, “You must not hang out in the hood” and, “You ain’t black — you are one of Miles’ people.” She later told an employee under Grayson who walked into the room, “Nobody wants to talk to Tonya — you see, Tonya and I don’t see eye-to-eye — she ain’t one of us sister girls.” Grayson notes in her complaint that, a few days after discussing this incident with Coggins and his team, she was told she was under investigation in connection with false statements made in her employment application, and that she suspected this was the result of retaliation.
Now, what do we know about this?
We know that a board employee who was in the dining area did not recall the exchange in any manner. [Ed note: smart man.]
- We know that trustee Blackburn says he didn’t think anything of this exchange, even though it “might have sound heated to some people,” because “Trustee Nutall spoke to Ms. Grayson in a similar tone and demeanor that she uses with other employees and in board meetings.” He remembered no specifics of the conversation [Ed note: smart man], but did recall telling them “that’s enough” several times.
- We know Nutall denies everything that could be interpreted as something that would have Blackburn say “that’s enough” or be excused as “speaking in a similar tone and demeanor that she uses with other[s],” other than admitting than Grayson “got real snappy” and she in turn “got snappy back with her.”
- We know I told you about this months ago, not long after the stories ran (you know, the stories that were most assuredly not planted by Nutall). From that post:
When Nutall found out about the HR reorganization (within DISD, HR is called Human Capital Management, or HCM), she let her displeasure be known. In particular, she asked Grayson to do something. I don’t know what that something was. Doesn’t matter. Grayson rightly told Nutall something along the lines of, “You’re not my boss, I won’t do it.” This is true. State law makes clear that individual board members have no power. Zero, none, nada. Only the board as a whole has authority. (And, since Nutall is routinely on the ass-whipped end of 7-2 votes, you could argue she has less-than-zero authority.) Nutall did what she does when challenged: She pulled the race card, telling the African-American Grayson, “You’re not black enough.”
This happened either shortly before or after Nutall filed a trustee request asking for reams of HCM personnel data, looking for dirt on anyone and everyone she could find. Within a week, the Dallas Morning News filed a Freedom of Information Requests for similar data, which is standard operating procedure, because Nutall leaks like a faucet, so long as a vendetta of hers (against Miles, or people who stand up to her, or some poor soul who looked at her cross-eyed) is advanced.
To reiterate: I have no idea if Nutall had anything to do with the unauthorized investigation into the HR head. I do know that it happened while Nutall was carpet-bombing the very people whom she is supposed to support. I know that race-baiting and demands for authority are par for the course for Nutall. (She told previous board president Eric Cowan last semester that if he didn’t vote with her on an issue, she would publicly call him a racist. Upon hearing that Superintendent Mike Miles let go an FOB — Friend of Bernadette — she told him that he owed her a firing, someone of her choice.)
So, I got part of that wrong. The initial discussion did not start because Nutall told her to do something. She was simply complaining that Grayson should have let the athletic department employees quit or retire rather than be fired. Everything else I wrote holds up.
Which is why, okay, legally Coggins must say there is insufficient evidence to say whether it happened or not. But you and I can say: Blackburn says this happened, just that it wasn’t that big of a deal, because, hey, that’s just Bernadette! And this pattern of behavior is completely in line with the way Nutall talks to people in closed session, one-on-one, and on the phone. It’s consistent with the stories that two other people told Coggins (noted in a footnote), who said, yes, they’ve had “aggressive” encounters with Nutall, but no, they didn’t feel “assaulted.” It’s consistent with the way Grayson characterized it in her full letter (which you should read). It’s consistent with what two DISD employees told me yesterday, one of whom simply stated, “I hope there are recordings of Bernadette talking to me. She’s come at me that way before. She comes at everybody that way.”
•Second allegation: Contained in the statement of Freddie L. Jackson’s, a security officer for DISD.
Now, this allegation had no finding because Jackson asked that it not be used to take any action against Nutall, including an investigation. He says he considers Nutall a friend. Fair enough.
BUT he also says the statement is completely “true and accurate.” Also fair enough. It’s pretty short. Let’s print it in full:
On Wednesday 10-15-2014 at around 8:30 a.m., I was asked to meet with Trustee Nutall concerning an incident that occurred between her and Superintendent Mike Miles at Billy Dade Middle School earlier in the week. Upon meeting with the trustee, she wanted to know why, as a black man, I did not come between her and Mr. Miles to prevent the uniformed Police officers from physically removing her from the school. I told Mrs. Nutall I could not have interfered with the lawful duties of the officers without being arrested myself. I also work for the Superintendent, and was not asked by him to say or do anything to Mrs. Nutall. I felt it was not a racial incident and that the action taken was appropriate for a person who was acting loud and disorderly in a school. Mrs. Nutall went on to say she was disappointed and had lost some respect for me not coming to the aid of a black woman who was being treated that way by anyone, not just police. I told Trustee Nutall that if the situation had been different, being, if she was being treated that way by just anyone I could have come to her aid as I would for any woman. At the time, I thought it was unusual for a Trustee to question an employee concerning this type of incident. This statement was made by me voluntarily.
This is obviously not harassment or bullying. No, this is something at once more common — board member meddling by Nutall — and amazing, insofar as it depicts an incredible example of horrible friendship. Let’s unpack this “true and accurate” statement from one of Nutall’s friends:
- She calls a DISD employee to her office to discuss front-page DISD news. No trustee meddling there!
- She says that because he’s black, he should have interfered on her behalf with police actions. Hey, black men out there, how does such a scenario normally work out for you? If you’re doing the right thing as determined by the racial/moral compass of Bernadette Nutall, you’ll be fine. Is that how it works, Chester?
- She asks an employee of DISD to violate the wishes of the Superintendent.
Now, Coggins footnotes that he has not been asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the events at Dade on October 13, 2014, so he won’t do so. But we can!
Remember, Nutall claimed and some believed that she in no way acted inappropriately at Dade. But her friend and an eyewitness now is on the record as saying:
- This was not a racial incident.
- The action taken by Mike Miles was “appropriate” because …
- Nutall was “acting loud and disorderly in a school.”
I’m sure trustee Blackburn would have no problem with this, because that’s just the way Nutall talks to people, right? Now …
• Third allegation: The statement of Assistant Superintendent Karon Cofield.
Again, Coggins made no determination as to whether or not this happened. But I think we should see if it fits the pattern we’ve established about Nutall’s daily interference in the district — especially since Cofield also says the statement is still true, even if she doesn’t want it to be used to investigate Nutall for specific allegations of harassment. (For the record: I totally understand why employees wouldn’t want their information used to investigate Nutall. First and foremost, it’s a high bar to prove that unprofessional behavior rises to board violation. And then you’ve still got to work with her.)
Cofield’s statement says that she and her staff have been badgered and bullied with harassing and racial statements. It says that Nutall “continuously involves herself in activities the Board has delegated to the Superintendent of Schools, particularly related to staffing.” [Ed note: If you’re surprised at this … well, I don’t believe you.]
Among the things she notes:
- Nutall advised the former principal at Dade to sue the district.
- Nutall told her she would be a part of principal selection.
- Nutall alleged, based on gossip, that a coach was “mentally grooming” a player and demanded the coach be fired.
- Nutall once chastised her for failing to return a phone call, even though the call was returned and Cofield spent a half hour on the phone with Nutall.
- Nutall said she was going “to get ya’ll fired.”
She made other allegations along these lines, too, primarily of Nutall telling the district how to handle personnel matters and evaluating said matters through a racial lens. She concludes that Nutall is disruptive and shows no respect for Mike Miles or his employees. Again, Coggins made no determination on these issues, other than to say one person who supposedly had a statement directed at her did not recall it. [Ed note: smart woman.]
Now, you can believe the interviews Nutall gave to Coggins, in which she says yes, some of this is true, but only the things that aren’t that bad, or that can be explained away, or that I recall in a way that is much less confrontational and disruptive and racial. Or you can read the seven-page, DISD lawyer-penned rebuttal by Nutall, which spends the first two paragraphs name-checking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — I know, read it, it’s amazing — and then says it won’t rebut the allegations because to do so would be to give them credence. And you can ignore what people have been saying about her for three years and what your eyes tell you based on her behavior during board meetings and briefings, all of which aligns perfectly with the allegations. Allegations that were not proven. Allegations that were not disproven. Allegations that I, not being a lawyer, add to my file marked, “OF COURSE.”
A final note: The report also says one more thing not mentioned in the media, at least anywhere I’ve seen. Understand that in DISD — as in any large company — once a supervisor is told of potentially harassing or threatening acts by an aggrieved employee, it is said supervisor’s duty to get that person to report it. (I went through this many years ago, when I had to report something I didn’t want to to my supervisor, which ended up with an employee being walked out the building.) Under the “Authority for Investigation” section, the report notes that once an employee has made statements that “potentially implicated allegations of race harassment/discrimination, the District was obligated [by policy] to conduct an investigation, make findings, and issue a written report. … Thus, it appears that the district not only has the authority but also the obligation to conduct an investigation into subject matters covered by [policy], regardless of who had allegedly committed the acts.” [Emphasis included in report.]
Just remember that point when you read the next round of stories about how much this investigation cost and how it cleared Nutall. The investigation had to be done — because Nutall is just being Nutall, as Blackburn might say. And, more important, Nutall was not cleared. The report said it can’t prove or disprove what happened with Grayson, and it made no finding otherwise. If you remember nothing else from the above, remember that.