As you know if you’ve been following my writing, the Polk County School District has its own high profile scandal relating to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of official workplace power.
In this case, Jason Looney, the powerful man accused of harassment in multiple forms and settings has suffered no personal consequences. Three formal investigations in seven years all concluded ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — that the allegations against Looney, most of which were firsthand eyewitness accounts, could not be substantiated with evidence. Eyewitness accounts are apparently not considered sufficient evidence.
Jason Looney has simply denied everything in a blanket, non-specific way. That has been enough to keep him as the principal, in apparently good standing, at Tenoroc High School.
Thus, the revolution of powerful man consequences that #metoo has brought for serial allegations of behavior has not reached Polk County. You may think that a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a thing either way.
And yet, for now, deafening official silence prevails among Polk district leadership and Polk School Board members — with the exception of me. When the lawsuits come over this, it is my hope that my efforts to force this institution to meaningfully address this will limit our institutional and taxpayer liability. But who knows?
At this cultural moment, the district’s handling of the Looney issue seems like a massive news story within our community that the supposed editorial voice of the local paper of record ought to engage. Instead, like district leadership, it has chosen silence.
A far-sighted concern troll
However, it’s not like Ledger editorial writer Bill Thompson, in his passive aggressive way, hasn’t found time to address #metoo as a whole.
He did it a few weeks back in chastising women accusing state Sen. Jack Latvala for their anonymity. They owe it to Anita Hill to take the same risks she did. Really, that was his thesis. Key passages:
All of that is appropriate. Yet the problem is that the victims, for now, remain in the shadows. This must change.
We can understand why they desire anonymity. Not only must they fear a reprisal from Latvala if he survives the investigation, their reputations and standing in the Capitol would be maligned and undercut with other lawmakers if their accusations aren’t supported.
Still, they should come forward, unpleasant though it may be. Anita Hill did so. A number of women did likewise last year to accuse then-presidential candidate Donald Trump of sexual harassment. And actresses Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and others have publicly admitted being victimized by Weinstein, whose career is now in tatters…
…Latvala might be the complete cad these women claim he is, and if so, he deserves whatever smackdown fate deals him. On the other hand, these women have just fired salvos that, if accepted as gospel, will ruin his professional reputation and his personal life. Because of the allegations, Latvala has already skipped events and watched donors back away, and the media mill is now cranking up the idea of whether he will resign.
Bondi is correct: the public needs more than “just trust us” before deciding how Latvala’s future should play out.
Thompson did it again today, saying: Sorry legislative ladies, don’t whine that you don’t get hired or involved in meetings in Tallahassee, because you know, the new normal means men have to protect themselves. That’s the new respect and personal restraint.
“I’m getting the feeling that we’re going back 20 years as female professionals,” Jennifer Green, owner of a lobbying firm, told the paper. “I fully anticipate I’m going to be competing with another firm that is currently owned by some male, and the deciding factor is going to be: ‘You don’t want to hire a female lobbying firm in this environment’.”…
…Powerful men who failed to treat women, whether colleagues or subordinates, with respect, dignity and professionalism — if the allegations can be substantiated — deserve to be run over by this locomotive. Thus, we should commend male powerbrokers who, albeit belatedly, recognize the harm caused by such frat-boy behavior, and seek to change.
Yet, as women who have been molested or sexually assaulted have unleashed this awakening of workplace misbehavior, it is disingenuous for other women to complain that they are being victimized by efforts to reform the predatory behavior of the past — even if that means not implementing formal policies or training but simply meeting only during business hours, using a third party as a witness to the conversation and keeping the office door open.
Why is it “disingenuous for other women to complain”? Because they’re women? I agree that the incentives of self-protection create some inevitable dynamics. But why is it disingenuous for women to lament those dynamics and point out the somewhat perverse outcome? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t isn’t a moral failing for “you.” It’s a real-world workplace predicament we’re going to be addressing for a generation, at least.
Bill’s editorial behavior in this suggests to me that he doesn’t see “women” as individual human beings with names and lives. They are more like props for his strange passive-aggressive worldview of dude grievance. I think his writing and thinking suggest that deep down he considers this whole thing women’s fault. If he was brave and honest about his own beliefs, he would just say it. But he’s bigger on demanding courage from anonymous women than from himself.
You see this perfectly in the real people he’s ignoring in Polk County, virtually all of whom have their names on the line, who are caught in the Looney investigation vortex.
Motes and beams
There’s a famous Bible verse that goes like this. And I’ve made a little edit:
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye;
and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy
Brandi Blanchard has a name and a life And she has a firsthand, on-the-record account. So do multiple other people in the three investigations of Looney. All are hidden by the beam in Bill Thompson’s eye.
So is The Ledger’s own coverage. Reporters have written several news stories about this issue. One included an account of the mandatory meeting that Looney and School Board Member Tim Harris held with Tenoroc faculty (also known as witnesses) during the active investigation. Harris expressed his full support for Looney, claimed the superintendent felt the same, and suggested the assembled witnesses to an active investigation get on board with Looney’s leadership “paradigm.” Harris lectured the mandatorily assembled faculty about how to vote for School Board. He did all of this on school property.
The Ledger has the transcript of Harris’ speech. I gave it to the reporter, who reported on it. If that meeting isn’t institutional witness intimidation, then I don’t know what could be. I called on Tim to resign over it, as was dutifully and accurately reported by Gary White. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Tim has decided not to run for re-election in 2018.
To my knowledge, Bill Thompson has yet to breathe an analytical word about any of this. He seems to have some ideological affinity with Tim. Maybe he’s shielding him from embarrassment. I don’t know. But he could ask for that transcript at any time. He could quote and critique Tim Harris at any time — rather than Pam Bondi.
Another Ledger story focused on a protest, organized by former Tenoroc students, against Looney and sexual harassment. It was a local page centerpiece. It had a giant picture with signs in it. Again, Bill Thompson’s beam blocked his vision. He saw the protest through ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-colored glasses.
If Bill’s beam ever works its way free of his cornea, here are a few eminently easy subjects for valuable editorials that he could write up just as fast as he can concern troll women he will never meet in far away cities.
Why did the District allow dismissal of Brandi Blanchard based on a Professional Development Plan that was defective?
What do investigators mean when they say: “Mr. Looney stated that throughout the school year (2016-17) he had concerns about Ms. Blanchard’s performance. He stated that he talked about the concerns throughout the year with his Regional Assistant Superintendent, Tami Dawson, Regional Assistant Superintendent Tony Bellamy and School Board Member Tim Harris.” Is this true? If so, why was Tim Harris involved in this discussion? What role did he play?
Did Jason Looney intentionally make a false statement to investigators in 2017 about the 2010 investigation’s outcome?
How did Tim Harris come to speak at the mandatory faculty meeting that Looney called while his investigation was still open? Did he and Board Member Tim Harris engage in witness intimidation?
Why was a Tenoroc teacher not made aware by the district of Looney’s email attacking her as a source of the allegations at the time of her Oct. 4 grievance hearing against him for retaliation?
What should be done now?
Between my reporting and his own paper’s, Thompson has all the helpfully accessible, pre-written content he needs to start addressing this. I even give him permission to plagiarize me.
Here are some helpful links:
The only real purpose of an editorial page
Editorial pages and editors are expensive anachronisms of a local newspaper era that isn’t coming back. The idea that somebody cloistered in an office, who does none of his own reporting that I can see, can somehow speak as the newspaper’s voice to the community is laughable. I think all newspapers should drop the editorial voice function and pump whatever money it saves into reporting.
However, there is one useful function editorial writers can serve that straight news reporters can’t under traditional newspaper conventions — public agitation for action and attention. And while I’m quite capable of agitating on my own (my focus on this issue and human capital management as a whole is going ratchet up significantly in the new year), I could always use some help.
Indeed, Bill Thompson’s predecessor Glenn Marston set the standard for this type of editorial behavior with his vital work on the Lakeland Police Department a few years back. Glenn helped push issues forward in ways that classic news reporting can’t. Indeed, this community owes him a great debt. Glenn’s work played no small part in the extraordinary transformation of LPD in the past few years.
As a reward, his community newspaper fired him because he wasn’t “conservative” enough and replaced him with Bill Thompson.
The results show it was a considerable downgrade.