Talk about mixed feelings this morning. On the one hand thanks to a youthful experience I would rather not recount here in colorful detail, I know exactly how Dallas school board member Bernadette Nutall feels about getting rousted by the cops earlier this week in a Dallas school building. My heart goes out.
On the other hand, the same experience leads me to believe she's entirely in the wrong for thinking somebody owes her an apology. If anything, she owes an apology to school Superintendent Mike Miles, who had to sic the gendarmes on her, but even more than that she owes a big mea culpa to the board on which she sits, for violating their basic charter and, frankly, making them all look a bit like fools.
And here's the most important point: This fight is about people fighting to regain lost political turf. Everything else is window dressing.
School trustee Nutall told a community meeting last night that Superintendent Miles humiliated her earlier this week by calling the cops to have her evicted from a school building, according to a story this morning in The Dallas Morning News.
"They proceeded to lift me up and take me out the door," Nutall said. "They picked me up and took me out of the school." Nutall told Miles, who was present at the meeting, that it was humiliating for her to be to be hustled out forcefully by police. "I'm a mother of two," she said to him.
As I tried to explain here the day after the incident, Nutall is shifting her story about what happened with each passing hour. A few hours after the event last Monday she told me she thought the school she visited was being poorly managed by Miles, and she was there with the intention of taking part in a closed meeting between Miles and new staff members even though Miles told her she was not invited to the meeting.
See also: Seize the Moment, Dallas Schools
That version -- closed meeting, she wanted in, Miles said no -- was also reported the same day by The Dallas Morning News.
So that would be Issue One: Does a school trustee, acting on her own without any consultation with or agreement from the full body of the school board, have the right to override the management directive of the superintendent?
But by the next day, on Tuesday, Nutall was already changing polo ponies. She told the Morning News the issue wasn't the meeting so much but trespassing in the building. Miles, she said, had accused her of trespassing when he called school police to evict her. A spokesman for the district had told me that was untrue, that trespassing was never mentioned.
It's a key point, because all of the district's rules, not to mention the simple logic of boards and institutions everywhere, would make it hard for Nutall to win a case in which she argued she had the right, on her own and without board approval, to countermand a management directive from the CEO. In other words, Miles is the CEO, not Nutall. But she would have a lot easier time arguing that she had a right to be present on the premises Issue Two: Was it trespassing or trying to crash the meeting that got her bounced?
Now toward the end of this same week, we find ourselves talking about Issue Three: Did Miles violate Nutall's right to dignified treatment as a woman, a mother and a human being? And by the way, it's worth noticing that as the week has progressed Nutall's story has migrated to more and more convenient ground for her, ending up finally in an area where she can allege and no one can refute.
But it's true that getting rousted by the cops, jacked up in any way, grabbed, hustled, frog-walked, hand-on-the-head shoved into a patrol car is very humiliating. Just is. What you feel is a total loss of physical hegemony over yourself. It sucks, if memory serves.
When I spoke to Nutall a few hours after the incident, I kept wanting to say something that I couldn't because it was outside the realm of the appropriate reporter/interviewee relationship. I wanted to say, "I am so sorry. I am so sorry that you had to go through this." I heard the humiliation in her voice, and it wasn't fake.
But she did this to herself, just as I did it to myself when I was a college student. Miles had absolutely no choice in the matter. He could not back down and allow what essentially was a rogue school board member to come pants him in front of his own staff.
They argued about it in the hallway that morning. Nutall herself told me she told Miles, "Arrest me." It was a direct full-face challenge, and Nutall was entirely in the wrong. Her only power, as Miles apparently tried to tell her that morning, is her ability to persuade the full board to act. She has no power, no right, no prerogative to enter a school and behave like she's Miles' boss. Bernadette Nutall, as one person, is not anybody's boss. She's not management. She's a board member.
What this really all comes down to anyway is what I will call Issue Four: Isn't Nutall really fighting here for lost turf, trying to drive the back the clock to the point in history, before Miles, when African-American school members were, in fact, the de facto CEO's of an informal separate South Dallas school district within the full district?
Yes. That's what this is. In the old days, Nutall and other black school trustees absolutely could march into schools, fire principals, hire teachers and impose their own policy. Critics of that system now would call it a Tammany Hall patronage racket. Supporters of it would call the old arrangement the appropriate response to court ordered desegregation. But all of that is beside the point now.
The court's gone. The court monitor is gone. Miles is here. Miles has taken those powers back to himself, with the blessing and consistent support of the school board. By fighting to regain that turf, Nutall defies Miles, but that's the least of it. She defies the full school board.
Every step of the way, Miles' reforms have been voted on by the board, and every step of the way the board has voted to support him. Nutall wants to act as if none of that happened, as if this were still the pre-Miles era and she was still the effective CEO over schools in her district.
So, Point the Last: Something has to happen. Push must come to shove. Either Nutall is forced to accept the new reality, or she wins, Miles gets fired, and we go back to the old arrangement. Nutall is the boss again of her own turf.
In the meantime, she will continue to engineer these kinds of confrontations and challenges, because the current state of affairs is not to her liking. In the current state of affairs she has lost turf. She wants it back.
That's what this is all really all about. Not meetings. Not trespassing. Not mothers getting rousted by the cops. This is about turf, and it ain't over 'til it's over.
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