COVINGTON — Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall has asked Newton County Board of Education Vice Chair Jeff Meadors to stop writing his column for the Newton Citizen.
Hall made the request during the public participation portion of the school board’s monthly work session Tuesday night, saying he was speaking on behalf of the Chamber and its board.
Hall specifically pointed to Meadors’ recent column for the Citizen comparing statistics of graduation rates and college entrance exam scores among the county school systems that make up the Joint Development Authority, Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton. Newton ranked last in much of the data.
Hall addressed Meadors during his comments, saying the column was “harmful” to the Chamber and its efforts to secure industries like Baxter International. He mentioned that he and Meadors previously talked in private about the piece.
“I know that the data you pulled was accurate,” Hall said, adding that there was other data Meadors could have used that didn’t show Newton schools performing last.
“It hurts the efforts not only of the Chamber, but if I’m sitting in the seats of your board members, you put a knife in my back,” Hall said. “That was really a dangerous piece.”
He told Meadors that as a school board member who represents District 1, where Baxter will be located, and as an employee of Georgia Perimeter College, which also is in District 1, his statements were not supporting or believing efforts made by the school system and did not explain positive trending data that Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews had previously discussed.
“It takes the knees out from under the Chamber’s efforts,” Hall said.
Hall mentioned that the Chamber is trying to get Baxter employees to live in Newton County.
He then asked Meadors to stop writing his column, which has appeared weekly in the Citizen since January.
“I don’t see any positive that comes from it,” Hall said, adding that if he wouldn’t stop writing, then to instead highlight positive topics or bring solutions.
“Highlight the good,” Hall said. “Every chance we get, let’s highlight it, let’s highlight it.”
Hall said that in addition to negative anonymous posts that come after his columns and “in light of (Meadors’) current legal situation,” that he also should not write.
Earlier this year, Alcovy High School Principal LaQuanda Carpenter brought a civil suit against Meadors, saying he has made false statements about her on the Newton Citizen website under pseudonyms or gave information obtained through his capacity as a board member to others who made the comments. Meadors has denied the allegations, and the lawsuit has not been resolved.
After making his request, Hall said he was leaving a book with Chairman Eddie Johnson, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.”
Hall added, “Do not blame the paper. ... The paper makes money doing what they do. They’re going to allow anonymous posts, whether on this opinion piece or anything else.
“Your job as the Board of Education is to not give them information to write about,” Hall said. “Your job, my job, city council, public service is to not give them reasons to write.”
Afterward, some members of the audience clapped.
“You’ve knocked it out the ballpark tonight,” Johnson said after Hall’s comments.
Mathews added that he also had talked to Meadors about the column, telling him it wasn’t fair to compare the systems since Newton was a larger system.
“It’s an apples to oranges comparison,” Mathews said.
School board member Almond Turner added a note to teachers, telling them that regardless of the “negative things” they see, that the board appreciates them and they are not going unnoticed. He said it was the board’s responsibility to work with the Chamber and portray a positive image, but not hide problems. He also added that people who wanted to blog should instead come to the board with solutions.
Fellow board members Abigail Coggin and Shakila Henderson-Baker did not speak in reaction to Hall’s comments. At one point during Hall’s speech, Meadors tried to speak, but Johnson wouldn’t let him.
Hall spoke on the topic for more than 10 minutes, and Mathews and the board held discussions afterward for nearly four minutes.
According to the school board’s Public Participation policy, “a maximum time of five minutes will be allotted to a single individual or a single topic based on the number of requests. … Personal attacks against any member of the Board will not be tolerated.”
Meadors said late Tuesday that he will not stop writing his column. The Newton Citizen, which is a member of the Chamber, has not requested that he stop writing.
“Mr. Hall has a right, as do I, to his opinion. When he called me initially, he acknowledged that one of his greatest challenges in attracting new business and industry is the achievement in our schools. I don’t think you ignore truthful data in order to grow. Looking at hard numbers helps us to get better,” Meadors wrote in a statement. “I have covered many very positive topics about NCSS in my columns. He has consistently stated to me, and again (Tuesday) night, that my data is accurate. Truth is our friend here and hope is not a strategy if we want to improve schools.
“Our teachers are high quality and work tirelessly. Data shows how much they need all of us to move us to the right of the school improvement continuum,” Meadors continued. “I will not cease writing opinion pieces and they represent only my personal opinion based on honest numbers.”