Manatee School Board member's joke prompts internal investigation

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- What started off as potential free speech violation has turned into another internal investigation launched by the Manatee County School District, but this time it’s a school board member who's under scrutiny.

When the possibility of selling McKelvey Park first came to light, many in the came out to voice their concern. Now a comment made by a member of the school board during that effort is the subject of a district investigation.

"I think he needs to get back to focusing on ways to raise more money for our district and have that to hunt and not a witch hunt," said School board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner, now the subject of an internal investigation.

Manatee County School District Superintendent Rick Mills said in a statement, "... Miller Elementary School employee reported allegations of a school board member making inappropriate remarks while addressing staff and faculty."

So what was the comment in question?

"Our community having another strip mall would be like Dolly Parton wanting to have a third breast," Miner said.

Minor says he apologized to those offended and admits the comment was inappropriate, but he says Superintendent Rick Mills only launched an investigation into the matter because Miner strongly opposed the sale of Mckelvey Park.

District officials deny that allegation, and in his statement Mills says, “As Superintendent, I am obligated to investigate an inquire into such matter when they are brought to my attention."

But Minor has a different take on the matter.

"I think to use that as some type of pretext to try to intimidate me or try to slur me into just way beyond the pale of good sense.” Miner says. “There is no place in this district for a bully even in the office of the superintendent."

Bradenton city commissioner Gene Gallo echoed those beliefs, saying this isn't the first time district officials have tried to silence employees.

"I think that there are a lot of teachers who are very scared and very sick they're being bullied," Gallo said.

Gallo points to an email from the principal at JP Miller Elementary school as a recent example. Jessie Dunn addresses a public meeting held last week about the potential sale of McKelvey Park, writing: "Do NOT have students create anything (like posters or signs), and do NOT speak out for or against this issue."

Gallo says the email was written under the direction of superintendent Rick Mills.

"Is this a communist country,” Gallo asked. “We're defending people in foreign land for the right to democracy and to speak and we're doing that here in this county?"