One of the big political kerfuffles of 2014 started with a YouTube parody.
A clip from the German movie “Downfall” that depicts the moment down in the bunker when Hitler realizes that the jig is up and pitches a spewing hissy fit – a scene that gets subtitled and recycled and linked up in all kinds of political situations – has been used against public figures all over the world.
In December 2013, somebody (I don’t know who, but it’s safe to say s/he was not a fan of former Superintendent James McIntyre) dug it up during debate over a four-year contract extension and raise for McIntyre and posted a link to the parody. (Remember, this was during the time when hundreds of teachers were showing up for board meetings wearing red to symbolize how much they didn’t like McIntyre and his methods). The clip had first surfaced locally in 2010 during the race for county mayor between Tim Burchett and Tim Hutchison.
Right about that time, school librarian Amber Rountree, who was also not a fan of McIntyre, decided to run for the District 9 school board seat against incumbent Pam Trainor, a McIntyre supporter. I realize the above is a pretty elaborate preamble to the point of this column. But it pertains to this year’s ninth district school board race, which could get pretty entertaining.
Rountree, who beat Trainor by a comfortable margin and is now vice chair of the board, is running for re-election. She had no announced opponent until South Knox school and community activist Kristi Kristy picked up a nominating petition. What makes this more interesting than the average school board race is the somewhat bizarre way Kristy became a public figure during the 2014 race.
Kristy saw the bunker parody over McIntyre’s contract extension (as did most everybody interested in the issue) and went ballistic. She sent Trainor a long, emotional email and asked her to pass it along to her colleagues, but to keep Kristy anonymous. Here’s the most relevant paragraph (unedited for grammar):
“The angry mob is all but calling for (McIntyre’s) head on a platter at Monday nights BOE meeting. I hope that their gross misconduct and unprofessionalism is not rewarded by you granting their wish! To compare the suffering of Knox County teachers at Dr. McIntyre’s hands to the suffering of the victims of the Holocaust is beyond comprehension, and I do not even have the words in my vocabulary to truly express how offended I am by the comparison. I am assuming that no one is holding guns to our teachers heads forcing them stay, or putting them in gas chambers when they do not comply with school policies. With this kind of mentality forget the unannounced evaluations. I think some may need constant daily supervision, and perhaps a little refresher course on WWII era history … along with a little sensitivity training is in order as well. I know they will say they do not have time, I suggest they use the time they are currently spending on Facebook and Twitter.”
Trainor obliged, and the Friday before the contract vote, forwarded the message to the school board secretary with Kristy’s name and email address intact and the following instruction:
“Can you please forward this to the board????
This is huge!!!!
It was all top secret, of course, and Kristy’s identity was known only to school staff, school board members and the county law director’s office.
The above paragraph is sarcasm, of course. The instant Trainor emailed it to a Knox County Schools employee to blast it out to other board members, it became public information. I was covering school issues at the time, and heard about it before the day was out. I asked board member Mike McMillan if he’d share it with me, and he knew that I’d get it one way or another, so he forwarded it to me and I wrote a story about the weirdness that was bubbling up around the issue of McIntyre’s contract renewal.
The board, which was sympathetic to McIntyre at that time, sided with Trainor and Kristy. It ordered an inquiry into how the “confidential” information got out, and threatened McMillan (who cheerfully admitted leaking public information to a reporter) with an ethics investigation.
An abundance of hot air was expended – most of it by Kristy, who felt aggrieved because her “confidentiality” had been breached. She pestered the law director, assorted county elected officers and a pro-teacher advocacy group in her quest to get McMillan censured or prosecuted or something. In the process, she got herself into a slight jam when she confiscated a stack of Rountree-supporting weekly newspapers from a school office (and yes, I have those emails, too).
Rountree won and McIntyre was on his way to losing his board majority, which happened at the next election, whereupon he negotiated a comfortable departure with a year’s pay and a soft landing at the University of Tennessee’s Leadership Academy (but that’s another story).
And now Kristy’s running against Rountree.