Scathing e-mail further strains relationship between DISD chief, board

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by BRETT SHIPP and JASON TRAHAN

WFAA

Posted on August 30, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:21 AM

DALLAS -- A former top chief in embattled Dallas Schools Superintendent Mike Miles’ cabinet called a school board member “relentless and ridiculous” and “vitriolic and unbelievably uninformed” in a scathing draft resignation letter that, until Friday, Dallas school officials may have purposefully withheld from WFAA.

The letter appears to have been written, or heavily edited, by one of Dallas’ top public relations experts, Lisa LeMaster, on behalf of Kevin Smelker. He resigned his $220,000-per-year chief of operations job in June after a year with DISD.

Lemaster attached what was proposed to be Smelker’s resignation letter in a Sunday, June 16, e-mail titled “Tough on Jones,” a reference to board member Elizabeth Jones, who has clashed with Miles’ cabinet members in meetings. LeMaster copied Miles on the e-mail. Minutes later, she tried to recall the message, but was unsuccessful.

Trustee Jones could not be reached Friday.

LeMaster has said that Smelker wrote the letter and that she only helped him edit it.

The release of the Smelker letter draft comes as Miles is fighting to keep his $300,000-per-year superintendent job. He is under investigation by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, whom his bosses, the school board, paid $100,000 this summer to look into allegations that Miles interfered with the awarding of a contract, and then allegedly attempted to shut down an internal investigation into the matter.

Miles has denied wrongdoing, but has not agreed to an interview with WFAA.

The release of Smelker’s draft resignation letter likely will inflame relations between him and the board further.

It states, in part:

My decision to leave, however, was completely confirmed after Thursday's board briefing that set an endurance record for impossible behavior by the board. Specifically, Elizabeth Jones's relentless and ridiculous questioning that was laden with a prosecutorial attitude and conduct on an issue she obviously doesn't understand.

In fact, her fellow board members had no idea what she was saying.

I have reviewed the seven and a half hour meeting tape; I still don't know what she was saying or asking.

I know that you believe Mr. Cowan will be able to lead and guide the board in this next stage of reform. I just don't have confidence that will happen.


SEE THE INITIAL RESIGNATION LETTER AND RECALL ATTEMPTS


LeMaster sent News 8 a statement Friday night expressing regret that the draft of the letter was released to the public.

"The letter I sent was too harsh," she wrote. "Sometimes you put things in black and white to give someone a reality check. I knew that letter would not be the final. People always pull back after they have looked at a few drafts and talked to more people. In this case, Kevin wrote the final letter and it was a different letter than the one I wrote."

A tamer version of Smelker’s resignation letter was distributed by Miles to board members shortly after Smelker quit on June 20, and subsequently was released to WFAA and other media outlets. It still accused “specific” board members – without naming names – of “intimidating behavior toward our staff” and “unprofessional” conduct.

Smelker said Friday night he submitted drafts of his letter to Miles because he "wanted to be sensitive politically," and Miles was aware he was consulting with LeMaster but had not suggested it to him.

“The letter I submitted was the letter that I felt best depicted why I was resigning,” he said. “My resignation letter that I submitted and I signed is the one that I crafted.”


SEE THE FINAL VERSION OF THE RESIGNATION LETTER


The e-mail with the more incendiary draft of Smelker’s proposed resignation letter was not included a cache of Miles e-mails the district released to WFAA earlier this summer following a Public Information Act request. A DISD attorney told News 8 Friday that she had only recently been given the e-mail, and released it to the station that same day.

It’s unclear what other e-mails the district withheld from WFAA.

Late Friday, DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander addressed the withholding of the e-mail.

“The lack of inclusion of the e-mail […] in response to your request was completely inadvertent because it was not included in the batch of e-mails sent to Legal Services by IT,” Dahlander wrote in an e-mail. “There was no way for Legal Services to know that the e-mail even existed. The response to your Open Records request was made in good faith and the lack of inclusion of the e-mail in question was not a deliberate act.”

Coggins, who has not spoken publicly about his investigation but recently gave trustees a three hour-long closed-door briefing, could release his findings next week.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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