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Payback time at the Broward School Board? Diversity activists accuse Chair Ann Murray

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org

Broward School Board Chair Ann Murray

Two public school activists say they lost their appointments to the Broward School Board’s Diversity Committee as payback for bringing attention to rundown conditions at Hallandale Beach High School.

Committee members Catherine Kim Owens and James Sparks told Broward Bulldog they were notified Thursday by School Board Chair Ann Murray that she had not reappointed them. In a brief letter, Murray informed each that their terms had “concluded” and thanked them for their service.

Hallandale High is in Murray’s district. “I assume this has to do with the fact that I was vocal” about poor conditions at the school, said Owens.

Murray said Monday that her decision not to reappoint Sparks and Owens, both residents in her district, was made to give others a chance to serve, and was “not a retaliation” for their outspokenness.

She noted that much has been done to  make repairs at Hallandale High, including the installation of a new air conditioning system. “There is only so much money; we are doing the best we can,” she said.

Committee members, who met Thursday, said Murray’s decision hurts the Diversity Committee’s ability to ensure students in Broward public schools have equal access to a quality education and proper facilities.

“This says to me if you say the wrong thing you won’t be here,” committee member Ernestine Price said at the meeting. “Even though you work hard you get slapped in the face.”

“Are they saying if we see something we should sweep it under the table?” said committee member Barbara Williamson. “If so, we should quit.”

Roland Foulkes, chair of the 30-member diversity committee, was annoyed when he echoed those sentiments. “I believe this is an example of the outcome when people do their jobs well,” he said.

POOR CONDITIONS AT HALLANDALE HIGH

Sparks was one of the community leaders who first brought attention to rundown conditions at the school in the 1990s through the community group Concerned Citizens for our Children. A lawsuit filed by Concerned Citizens led to an agreement in 2000 that community members and the School Board would monitor conditions and make improvements at Hallandale High and other schools.

Sparks spoke out publicly this year after a team of Diversity Committee members reported that dilapidated conditions still existed at the school. Owens was the team member who compiled the critical report, which drew the attention of Broward Bulldog and other local media days after a statewide grand jury blasted Broward school officials for mismanagement.

The district reacted by making upgrades to computers, fixing locker rooms, repairing ceilings and showers and taking other remedial measures.

ANNUAL APPOINTMENTS

Thursday’s meeting was the first session for those appointed or reappointed to one-year terms.

Each of Broward’s nine school board members, seven from districts and two at-large, selects three appointees. District board members must select appointees from their district, while at large members can select from the entire county. Three students also sit on the board.

All of the appointees are volunteers. A new chair will be named by committee members in January.

While dropping Owens and Sparks, Murray reappointed Shevrin Jones and named a new member, Daphne Henry. Murray has one more appointee to name. She said Monday that she will likely choose a Hispanic, as that group is not well represented on the committee.

Four other vacancies belong to board members from other districts.

Frustrated diversity committee members discussed a motion to urge some other board member to appoint Sparks and Owens, but decided the request would be futile because eligible board members already had used their available selections.

MESSAGE TO TOE THE LINE

Hallandale High wasn’t the only rift between Murray and members of the Diversity Committee.

According to Owens, Murray objected to committee members making unannounced trips to public schools.

“We felt we could not do that,” said Owens, who added that committee members did not forewarn anyone of their visits because they wanted to see school conditions as they actually existed, not doctored to make a more favorable impression.

Sparks added, “[Murray] doesn’t want to appoint anyone who doesn’t think like her.”

At last week’s meeting, Foulkes noted that pointing out problems is what committee members are “supposed to do.” But Murray, he said, “was uncomfortable” with the spotlight that was thrown on Hallandale Beach High.

“They were hard working and dedicated, especially in Hallandale,” Foulkes said of Owens and Sparks.

Last March, Foulkes called for Murray’s resignation after news reports described her use of a racial slur when she was a school district transportation supervisor in 2007. The disclosure was another “embarrassment” for her around the time of problems at Hallandale Beach High, Foulkes added. Hallandale High is a predominantly black school.

Murray apologized for the remark but declined to step down.

William Gjebre can be reached at wgjebre@browardbulldog.org

 

 

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  • Maybe Murray didn’t want her appointee (Owens) to be associated with corruption.

    “In the case of Josephus Eggelletion, Joel Williams, Ronald Owens, and Sidney Cambridge, FBI undercover agents (“UCAs”) purported to represent an individual seeking to hide proceeds of illegal activity. To this end, in December 2006, the UCAs advised County Commissioner and Broward County Vice-Mayor Josephus Eggelletion that they sought to hide proceeds from an investment fraud scheme. In a series of recorded meetings, Eggelletion introduced the UCAs to defendants Williams and Owens as individuals who could help the UCAs hide assets in the Bahamas, where Eggelletion stated he did not have the same ethical restrictions as he did in the United States. To execute the scheme, Williams, Owens and the UCAs traveled to the Bahamas to meet with defendant Cambridge, a Bahamian attorney. Thereafter, the defendants allegedly agreed, in exchange for a cash fee to be shared among them, to launder the purported investment fraud proceeds though a Bahamian bank account to be established by defendant Cambridge. In this way, from March 23, 2007 through November 23, 2007, in a series of wire transfers, the defendants laundered approximately $900,000 from an account in Miami through the Bahamian account into an account controlled by the FBI in St. Croix. As well, the UCAs discussed an additional $200,000 and $500,000 transfer with Eggelletion and Owens, respectively, but none of these additional funds was actually transferred. The defendants received a total of 7% of the money laundered through the Bahamian account, of which defendant Eggelletion received approximately $23,000. As a result of these actions, defendants Eggelletion, Williams, Owens, and Cambridge were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h).”

  • Just to clarify, Ann Murray requested that the Diversity Committee notify her in advance when we visit her schools so she could be at the site visits. The site visit committee was concerned that if the school board members were present, the staff members would not be free to discuss concerns at each school; therefore, the SV Committee voted not to comply with Ms. Murray’s request.

    Ms. Owens did not say that “Murray objected to committee members making unannounced trips to public schools.”

  • “Maybe Murray didn’t want her appointee (Owens) to be associated with corruption.”

    Or maybe you just like to sling mud. Because I’m not sure how a nearly five year-old charge for a minor white collar crime committed by an appointee’s spouse has anything to do with making sure that Black children get to go to a school with air conditioning and legs on all the chairs in the classrooms.

  • Mr. Puddy,

    In your comments, you claim Ms. Murray did not want to be associated with corruption and posted part of a press release from the US Attorney’s office inferring Ms. Kim Owens is somehow involved with or is an un-indicted co-conspirator to crimes by committed by Ronald Owens et al.

    If I were Ms. Owens, I would seriously consider filing a defamation suit against you for the insinuations. Being related, or married to indicted/convicted individual does not automatically make you a party to their crimes!!!!

    If this were the case, Ms. Murray children would have been ostracized by community due to their mother’s racist description of Sun Life Stadium upper deck seats as “-igger heaven”

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