NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Wayne Bullard, the attorney for the New Hanover County School district and the Board of Education, has been filming people who criticize him and the district during recent board meetings. It’s apparently against the district’s policy — so why is he doing it?
New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) has not explained why Bullard might be doing this. However, the district’s new top spokesperson, Chief Communication Officer Ann Gibson, responded on behalf of the Board of Education, saying “[i]t is not policy or practice for videotaping or photography to occur from the board table at any time. ”
In addition to apparently violating school policy, Bullard’s actions have also been questions by the speakers that were filmed. They’ve suggested that Bullard is either preparing his own defense for future litigation or that he is attempting to intimidate public speakers.
Board member Judy Justice said she was not aware of any board directive to Bullard to film speakers. Justice said the only explanation was that Bullard was attempting to intimidate speakers — or to keep recently departed administrators in the loop.
“It is totally mystifying to me except for the obvious — which is that he’s trying to intimidate [the speakers],” Justice said. “I see no reason, whatsoever, that he would be doing that because it’s already taped. Maybe he’s doing it for some friends of his that he used to work with that are no longer in the room.”
Justice didn’t name any of these ‘friends,’ but likely meant former Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley as well as former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday, to whom Bullard reported directly.
Which speakers is Bullard filming?
As Justice pointed out, Bullard’s filming is not to officially document the proceedings — the board meetings are already filmed and posted on YouTube by the district’s in-house media production department. These videos include a two-camera system that captures both speakers and the board (along with Bullard and the newly hired interim superintendent, Dr. Del Burns).
And it’s not all speakers being filmed. During the recent March 3 meeting, Bullard did not film the parents and students who spoke in support of New Hanover High School coach Richard Foy, asking the board to ignore his resignation. Foy had resigned after agreeing to a deferred prosecution deal that required him to submit to supervised probation and to stay away from a female student whom he had allegedly assaulted by putting his hands around her neck.
Bullard did film several speakers who were critical of him or the district, including social worker Angie Kahney, UNCW professor Clyde Edgerton, advocate and community organizer Lynn Shoemaker, and Reverend Dante Murphy. Edgerton directly addressed the board, asking them to separate from Bullard, a suggestion Murphy supported.
Speakers address Bullard’s filming
Edgerton said Bullard’s actions had a “chilling effect” on speakers.
“In front of a hundred or so students, parents and citizens, the school board lawyer films, with his personal device, concerned parents and citizens who are practicing their constitutional right to peacefully request a redress of grievances before a government body. He is filming not on his free time, but during a call to the audience in a meeting in which he takes direction from the school board. Such behavior has a chilling effect on free speech. This is covered in the U.S. Constitution,” Edgerton said. “Mr. Bullard should be separated from our school system and without a payout or a stadium named after him. He and recently departed administrators have conspired, covered up, bullied, and directed our school board way, way too long — on our dimes.”
Kahney noted Bullard’s selective filming, calling it ‘bullying,’ and challenged the board’s reliance on Bullard for advice.
“It was obvious that Mr. Bullard was targeting a certain group in filming only those advocates for victims of sexual abuse and accountability within our school system. Knowing his previous methods of retaliation, I can only conclude that his goal was to try and further intimidate us and discourage us from speaking out. While it’s a little unnerving, I think the risk of not speaking out is a bigger risk to take at this point. So if his goal is to deter that, I think that he hasn’t proven to be very successful. The school board, under the advice of Mr. Bullard, has gone this route many times to try and silence the public and that is part of what has put them into this debacle in the first place,” Kayney said.
“As I said in my address, perhaps the school board might consider listening less to the advice of Mr. Bullard and more to their own conscience so that they can actually begin to make better decisions and move NHCS in that forward direction that they claim to seek. The bullying behavior of Mr. Bullard is precisely the kind of behavior we are trying desperately to change within our school system so I certainly don’t think he’s a good role model for children. I’d also remind him that the Board Meetings are already recorded as a whole and available to the public in case he decides to take his intimidation tactics a step further,” she added.
Shoemaker said Bullard was ‘off-task’ by filming parents.
“The board meetings are streamed and video-recorded by NHCS, so the only reasons I can come up with for the board attorney Wayne Bullard to personally record a select few speakers at call to the audience are, one, he’s attempting to intimidate them or, two, he’s working on his own defense during board meetings. Bullard has repeatedly reminded us that he only works for the board and the superintendent, so unless the board directed him to record particular speakers, those speaking out about the mishandling of parent complaints, then I have to assume that Mr. Bullard is off-task from his assigned duties,” Shoemaker said.
Tosh Longo, a mother who has spoken at several board members to advocate for the victims of sexual assault, said witnessing Bullard filming her fellow advocates deeply disturbed her.
“Wayne Bullard’s videotaping of advocates for sexual assault victims is not only unethical but intimidating. There is absolutely no reason for the Board’s taxpayer-funded attorney to video any speaker who attends the call to audience when we are all aware that these meetings are recorded and posted to YouTube anyway. His actions were meant to intimidate the very folks working so hard to correct the issues our [Board of Education] refuses to. I hope ‘they’ know advocates are not intimidated and it doesn’t matter how many times they try to intimidate advocates by their shady actions and words — we will not back down. We will continue to advocate for those who need it regardless of who tries to deter us from doing so and they will continue to see the same ol’ faces repeating the same pleas we’ve pleaded for over the past 16months. We aren’t going away no matter what tactics the board decides to pull out of their ugly little hat. We are here and are here to stay until each and every victim’s voice is heard,” Longo said.
Note: On Friday morning, Port City Daily emailed Board Chairwoman Lisa Estep, Deputy Superintendent Dr. LaChawn Smith, and general counsel Wayne Bullard to ask about the filming of ‘call to the audience’ speakers. On Monday morning, a follow-up email was sent. At press time, Bullard had not responded; if he does, that response will be included in an updated version of this article.
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