Say no to the recall

Now that the election is over, we can try to begin returning to normal – well, except for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, unfortunately, we still have one local issue that may have to be dealt with – a recall effort against a member of the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school district.

At press time, Lance McDaniel, who’s in his first term on the board, was facing a possible recall initiated through a petition process. Sufficient signatures were on the petition for it to merit a recall election, but several protests had been filed against the petition, and those were awaiting a hearing before a chosen legal officer.

That hearing has been set for Nov. 19. If the hearing officer rules that the protests aren’t a valid reason to stop the recall, an election will go forward, and voters in the school district will have to decide whether to keep McDaniel or boot him out.

If that happens, we hope they’ll retain him, because if they don’t, they’ll be setting a really, really bad precedent.

Recalls should be mounted over serious issues with a person’s behavior. For instance, doing something illegal. Not showing up for meetings. Having serious conflicts of interest. Maybe being rude and mean during gatherings of the board or commission they’re on, or while on the job.

But McDaniel isn’t accused of anything like that.

Instead, he’s accused of, well, being someone that someone else doesn’t like, basically.

In the ”general statement of grounds for recall” that accompanied the petition (the statement was obtained by KSJD radio), the complaint is that McDaniel “posts his personal opinions, likes, and dislikes” on social media, and “Many of the school children in our community follow him on social media.”

The three specific examples of these allegedly horrifying posts were:

  • When Cortez’s City Park was renamed Veterans Park, McDaniel stated, “The Damn veterans won again!”
  • After the death of George Floyd, he wrote, “I’m Antifa!”
  • And he posted photos of chalk messages written on Cortez sidewalks concerning racial injustice.

“Our children deserve positive leadership. McDaniel’s comments, behavior, and lack of accountability cannot be tolerated,” the petition states.

Let’s take the first complaint. To McDaniel’s friends (and one of us does follow him on Facebook), it was patently obvious that the veterans remark was a joke. It was something akin to a conversation between friends in the grocery store, let’s say, where one remarks, “Wow, you have a lot in your cart,” and the other says, “Oh, those damn boys of mine are eating me out of house and home.” The response would be a chuckle. No one would take the remark seriously and assume the speaker was really, truly cursing his or her sons.

Regarding Antifa, many people on Facebook have noted that it is short for “anti-fascist” and have posted memes showing GIs landing on the shores of Normany on D-Day with captions stating, “We’re anti-fascists.”

And the pictures of the chalk messages are what they are. Anyone who walked downtown could see the messages, it wasn’t as though the photos were revealing some secret.

We have no idea whether children follow McDaniel on Facebook, but the recall won’t stop them from doing so.

The whole issue of Facebook and Twitter posts is being wrestled with by entities everywhere.

The realm of social media is still a fairly new one when it comes to the behavior of elected or appointed officials and leaders. Most local entities do not have a formal policy regarding what officials should or should not say in electronic venues.

In the old days, officials talked in person or on the phone to their friends and vented their feelings, and that was the end of it. Now, when they do the same thing via social media, there is a record for the world to see. All it takes is one “screen shot” and your comment can be spread publicly, even if you’ve since erased it.

The school board has no specific formal policy regarding how people should behave when it comes to social media, though it does have a policy generally supporting professional behavior and treating others with respect. It does not preclude board members from expressing their own opinions on their own time.

The movement against McDaniel seems to include vague concerns about his delivering pizzas to weekly meetings of LGBTQ kids at the middle school. There have been statements that this involves his personally interacting with the kids.

The pizza delivery was supported by a church in Cortez as a way to provide the kids a safe place to meet and discuss their concerns with their peers. There are other such school groups representing special interests that meet regularly. Anyway, McDaniel reportedly has only been dropping off the pizzas to a receptionist, not taking them directly to the kids.

McDaniel was appointed to a vacant seat in September 2018. He ran unopposed and was elected to office in the fall of 2019 and will be up for re-election at the regular board election in the fall of 2021.

In a recent Facebook post, he stated:

“As an elected board member I strive to be true to the district’s statement, ‘Every student, every day’.

“I’m not perfect. I do have and share personal opinions. I worked in an industry where crude language is acceptable. I do apologize for my language.

“Let’s all be more informed. Stop the absurd allegations and strive to make our diverse county a great place to live for all residents. Diverse opinions are not a bad thing.”

The originators of the petition are among a group that has shown a strong personal dislike for McDaniel. They also tried to persuade the Cortez City Council to have him removed from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission because of his Facebook joke about veterans, but the council ultimately voted not to do so, and McDaniel remains a member of P&Z.

During a discussion on Feb. 11, 2020 at a council workshop, City Manager John Dougherty suggested the council write a policy that would advise members of boards and commissions that they are considered to be representing the city even when they speak on social media.

City Attorney Mike Green commented that individuals have freedom of speech. He said the city’s personnel manual could be rewritten to cover not only employees but members of boards, but generally people are still free to say what they want on their own personal time. The board left it at that.

So, while it may be a good idea for various groups to come up with policies regarding social media, they should do so very carefully. There would have to be consistency in those policies. They can’t say, in effect, “It’s okay for people with conservative political views to post whatever they want on their pages, but people who are progressive must be docile and circumspect.”

There are a number of local officials – for example, County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla – who make all kinds of remarks on his Facebook page that could be considered antagonistic, insulting, ill-advised and bad for children to view. But should they be censored in some way? We don’t believe so.

Do we want to start reining in what police officers, sheriff ’s deputies, county commissioners, members of special-district or school boards, and municipal employees say? Who is going to go around patrolling various social media venues to see what others are saying?

Again, if such policies are going to be adopted, they have to be fairly applied, not just used to pluck out board members who have different political views than the majority.

The recall election, if it goes forward, will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000, according to various estimates. That has to be paid by the school district.

“That money could be better spent on kids and teachers,” one school-board member, Jack Schueneyemer, told the Four Corners Free Press. We agree.

The people who don’t like McDaniel could simply have waited a year for him to finish his term, since there is no urgent threat involved in any of these accusations against him.

But when it comes to threats, we have to mention something else: the interruption of a school-board meeting on Oct. 20 by several people, one of whom made a threat against McDaniel’s daughter.

The board was meeting in person, but McDaniel and Schuenemeyer were present via Zoom. After about 20 minutes, the board took up the topic of whether to meet in person in the future. They were still speaking when voices from an unknown source broke into the meeting.

A man said, “Hey, Lance, I like your beard, man.”

A woman made some remark about how Santa (presumably she was referring to McDaniel, who has a white beard) had forgotten to give her a present.

Then a man said, “Lance, if you mute me one more time, I’m going to rape all your daughters.” The word “mute” was impossible for us to hear, but according to the police officer who investigated the incident, that’s what the man said. (McDaniel actually has just one daughter).

The board then ended the electronic feed of the meeting.

They later released a statement that said, in part:

“On Tuesday, October 20, some members of the public who were virtually attending the school board meeting hijacked the meeting’s technology and directed hateful, threatening, and obscene statements to members of the RE-1 District School Board. Board members and district staff were shocked, disheartened, and disappointed.”

We understand that these are very difficult times for people, but there is no excuse for making this sort of threat. It certainly demonstrates that among the people who dislike McDaniel are some individuals who are guilty of far worse behavior than anything he’s accused of. We hope that local law enforcement will be able to track down the party who made the threat and charge him with harassment or something similar.

One of the protests submitted against the recall states, “The petitioners are not motivated by a genuine interest in the public good; they have instead mounted a very personal and frivolous harassment campaign against Mr. McDaniel—whose political opinions generally stand in opposition to their own—simply because his openness with those opinions, on social media and elsewhere, have made him “easy pickings” as a political scapegoat.”

The protest continues, “The petitioners’ claims have no merit: they are a mishmash of highly subjective opinions, gross misrepresentations of fact, and/or unverifiable assertions that are wholly irrelevant to Mr. McDaniel’s service on the School Board.”

This is right on target. To recall McDaniel would set a very illadvised precedent. Would it be wise to start trying to throw people out of elected positions for utterly trivial reasons? Do we want to spend taxpayer money holding election after election on questions such as these?

Or should we try to stick to the system we have, where people run for office at regular intervals and are elected or not elected by a majority vote?

Serving on the school board is an unpaid position. School-board meetings are often long and tedious. The people willing to do that job should be thanked for their efforts rather than hounded for utter nonsense.

If someone wants McDaniel’s board seat, they should run against him in the fall of next year. But don’t vote to recall him now. It’s foolish and unfair, and it could lead to many more such frivolous, mean-spirited recalls in the future.

From Editorials.