'It's all a matter of power.'

When Sandy Kress was school board president, he and Dan Peavy held private discussions on how to limit the influence of black school board members. Their conversations were captured on the Peavy Tapes, which Kress has fought hard to keep secret. Now, U.S.

Castilla also wanted to send Kress a get-off-the-stick message. In a letter dated February 10, 1995, Castilla wrote Kress: "I think it would be in the best interest of the Board that I bring the committee structure discussed and agreed to by all members of the committee to the full Board at the Tuesday, February 14, Work Session."

The committee on committees did indeed present its proposal at that work session.

But, unexpectedly, Peavy countered with his surprising proposal, which included the provision that the committees would meet simultaneously. Committee proponents had reached their breaking point, Brashear recalls. He had, after all, been asking Kress to get the board to vote on establishing committees since November.

The impact of the stalling was not lost on Yvonne Ewell either. According to the board secretary's notes, Ewell made the "comment at the work session that you cannot have oversight over that which you do not know about. The purpose of committees, she told the group, is to allow [the] public to know about their business. I'm not willing to take disenfranchisement for another three years...The issue is systematic and fundamental reform."

Kress said the discussions would continue.
But at the formal board meeting held the evening after the afternoon work session, when the press was in attendance, the discussions did anything but continue. Frustrated with Kress' foot-dragging, the black board members made sure of that.

At the evening meeting, Peavy gave the invocation and led the pledge of allegiance. Then all three African-American school board members, as well as lone Hispanic member Castilla, left the meeting to protest the absence of the committee on committees' proposal from the agenda.

The dramatic exit was a relatively quiet, decorous way to protest the board's leadership, compared with other tactics that have become common at DISD meetings--yelling, gun-toting, and nose-to-nose confrontations. But the walkout caught the public's attention because it was one of the first times in recent memory that the African-American school board members had done it.

"Everywhere we look, the four Anglo board members are occupying leadership positions," Brashear said during a news conference held a few days later to publicize the minority members' concerns. "This is not by mistake. It's intentional."

It was time, Brashear thought, to bring in the big boys, the business leaders who helped finance the campaigns of Kress and the other white members. On February 20, Brashear sent a letter to all the board members and mailed copies to the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Texas Utilities executive Earl Nye, and Pettis Norman, a former Dallas Cowboy and high-profile black businessman and community leader.

"We strongly believe that two permanent committees must be established to focus our attention on education and business affairs," Brashear stated in his letter.

Norman, who heads Dallas Together, a group of 42 chief executive officers working with companies on multiracial issues, took the lead. Norman says he spoke with Kress several times "at length" about setting up committees.

Kress says the board was "making progress," and that Norman's input "isn't what made the difference."

Within a matter of days, Kress reversed course and established two committees that were scheduled to meet at different times. They were temporary, but they were not ad hoc.

Kress appointed to the education committee two African-American board members--Ewell and Gilliam. The committees were to meet at different times so board members could participate when they liked.

The committees Kress had resisted were finally established, and he says that that alone is proof there was nothing untoward about the process.

"We compromised, after some protest," Kress says. "We reached an agreement, and we moved on."

But the fractious episode set the stage for turbulent times ahead.
In September 1995, a partial transcript of one Peavy Tape was mailed anonymously to school board members and ultimately read aloud at a board meeting. Peavy's racial ramblings reflected poorly on Kress. Black leaders in Dallas argued that Kress should have displayed more antipathy toward Peavy's language during the two men's conversations.

Within three months after the release of the tape--in January 1996--Kress resigned from the school board. At a press conference held to announce the news, Kress held his 18-month-old son Caleb and said: "I have no idea what the next challenge will be, but I am sure there will be one."

In April 1996, the U.S. Attorney's office indicted Peavy on bribery charges. Kress intervened during the pre-trial stage, arguing that the illegally intercepted recordings should stay under wraps. Others on the school board, who were not taped, held the opposite opinion.

In July 1996, African-American school board member Ewell sent a letter to Coggins. "This will communicate my desire that you release the information related to the Peavy tapes as soon as it is feasible," Ewell wrote. "This issue, although unpleasant, commands our best attention and devotion to duty above all else." At that time, Coggins did not act on Ewell's letter.

The U.S. attorney is no stranger to Sandy Kress. Coggins says the two are friends. Fellow travelers in Democratic politics, the two talk regularly and see each other at social functions. They were law partners in the early 1980s at the now-defunct firm Johnson & Gibbs. Coggins contributed $250 to Kress' school board campaign fund in 1992.

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