No respect

DISD trustee Se-Gwen Tyler explains why she cast her controversial vote for an Anglo board president

Tyler was at ease with the group but not quite relaxed. Sitting ramrod straight, she scribbled notes and scanned documents. Dahlander made a series of recommendations. Everything he advised Tyler to do, she had already done. The issue was on the school board's agenda, and she had her votes squared away. She was on top of it.

Later on, Tyler comments that these people have been trying to push through the name change since 1996. Each year, their efforts have been dismissed with little explanation.

"The way these people have been treated doesn't make any sense," Tyler says with disgust. She doesn't like it when people are treated like second-class citizens, and she believes these folks were taken for granted.

One woman, one vote: Freshman DISD trustee Se-Gwen Tyler effectively ousted board president Hollis Brashear.
Martin Menocal
One woman, one vote: Freshman DISD trustee Se-Gwen Tyler effectively ousted board president Hollis Brashear.

That's exactly how she feels Price and Brashear treated her -- like a second-class citizen. Tyler says she endured months of disrespect from the men. "They would cut me off in mid-conversation. They would talk over me and even turn their back on me when I was speaking. It's a shame that it was the African-American men on the board who disrespected me."

Some factions in black Dallas are willing to throw that complaint right back at her -- saying Tyler disrespected her black constituents by voting for Roxan Staff. The most brutal criticism, by far, has come from former city council member Diane Ragsdale, who called Tyler "Aunt Jemima Se-Gwen."

Others join in the chorus. "She carried us back 75 years when she voted against Hollis," says Hattie Jackson, a resident of Tyler's district who is a retired schoolteacher and longtime friend of Brashear's. Jackson says he would never treat Tyler with disrespect. "He's a very kind and religious man," she says. "I think [Tyler] has some kind of inferiority complex."

Brashear's leadership style, however, clearly had become an issue among board members. Several sources described the former Army officer as gruff and abrasive. Even some of those who had voted for him as board president in the past offered little in the way of endorsement, noting that Brashear simply carried the least baggage among board members.

Commenting on Brashear's leadership, former trustee Don Venable begins with an apology: "I have to take credit for putting Hollis in that position, but Hollis is going to take the blame for his conduct once he got the position." Venable says it went to Brashear's head. "He showed very quickly that he lacked the talent and character to be president." He goes on to describe Brashear's leadership style as punitive. "People either lock step with him or they're punished."

That's what happened to Tyler, he says. "She was tired of being pushed around."

Board member Jose Plata, who voted for Staff on June 2, goes so far as to call Brashear a dictator. Initially, Plata is vehemently opposed to discussing Brashear at all, but when he gets warmed up, he cuts loose. "He was not only condescending to women -- Ms. Tyler included -- but he did not understand leadership except in a linear structure, dictatorial. I've told him to his face."

The perception that Brashear condescended is what irks Tyler the most. After her vote for Staff, she told The Dallas Morning News that Brashear held her back -- though she offered no specifics. Brashear responded that the only thing holding Tyler back was her lack of preparation for board meetings.

Ron Price dismisses Tyler's criticisms of Brashear at the same time he seems to underscore her fundamental complaint.

About Brashear's supposedly patronizing attitude toward Tyler, Price retorts, "That's a bunch of crap. She's new to education and this level of politics. Mr. Brashear wanted to treat her like he was going to be the bear and she was going to be the cub. He was just trying to protect her and let her learn."

Tyler, not surprisingly, considers herself past the age of needing protection. "Protect me from what?" she says, rolling her eyes in exasperation. "Maybe he was protecting him [Price]."

Several times during her conversation with the Observer, Tyler seems to restrain herself from blasting Brashear. "I don't want to attack anyone. They can attack me as much as they choose to...these are the results of some of the things I've had to endure while I was on the board. I am a lady. I'm 40 years old. Don't take me for granted."

Brashear, incidentally, accepts Price's well-intentioned papa bear/cub analogy. "Yes, he's right," Brashear says about Tyler. "I took her under my wing."

That included arranging a fundraiser for Tyler so she could begin clearing her campaign debt to the Staffs. Brashear says he and businesswoman Joyce Foreman organized a fundraiser for Tyler last winter, though he doesn't know how much money was raised. "I didn't want her to be beholden to another board member," he says. Says Foreman: "We gave all the checks to Se-Gwen."

Tyler says she applied the money to her campaign debt, but that shouldn't put her in hock to Brashear. "Ask Hollis what was coming up on the agenda," Tyler says, suggesting that Brashear was simply trying to enlist her vote on which firm the board would choose to conduct an internal audit of district affairs.

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