Chamber President Hunter Hall addressed the board of education Tuesday, specifically District 1 representative Jeff Meadors, asking that Meadors cease writing his column for the Newton Citizen because Hall believes the information Meadors is focusing on could be detrimental to the county and potential businesses that might consider locating here.
Hall specifically addressed Meadors' Aug. 21 column, saying it was harmful to the community.
Hall's biggest complaint was that Meadors was using data in the Aug. 21 column - and others that Hall had read - that pitted Newton County last, "when we all know there are three years worth of positive trending data," and "incredible successes" he could have used. While Hall conceded that the information was accurate, there was plenty of data he could have used that didn't show Newton County as last.
"If I'm sitting in the seats of your board members, you've put a knife in my back. Because they're busting it every day to provide a system and a structure that this school system can succeed in. And every teacher and administrator who is in a school, who read that, said, ‘Why am I even doing what I do if my board members opinion is that?'" Hall said.
"Because if you ask the question, after listing all that data, that says ‘Where would you live if you were...moving to this area?' as a board of education member who sits in District 1 - where Baxter is located, as an employee of GPC, whose school is located in that district - you're not asking a question. That is a statement of confirmation that you do not support or believe in the efforts that you guys are working on."
Hall also said that he and Meadors had spoken previously about the column.
"My comments are certainly not coming from anonymous posts," he said, causing some people in the audience to chuckle.
Hall asked Meadors to quit writing the opinion columns altogether, saying there was nothing positive that could come from it. Or, if Meadors chose to continue, Hall asked him to bring solutions or highlight the positive things going on in the Newton County School System.
"I would ask, and especially in light of your current legal situation, that you just refrain altogether. I see no good that can come out of the anonymous posts that come out of your pieces," Hall said.
When Meadors began to interject, Chairman Eddie Johnson spoke up, asking Meadors to allow Hall to finish his presentation.
Hall left a book for Johnson called "Switch: How to Create Change When Change is Hard," saying that the book instructing the reader to use bright spots - to chase them and highlight them.
"Do not preach to the lowest common denominator, raise the standards," Hall said.
He also said that The Citizen should not be blamed because they were a business, and allowing for anonymous posts increases their web traffic, something they could use to sell online advertising to potential clients.
"Your job, as a board of education, is not to give them anything to write about."
Hall ended by telling the board that the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce was their biggest cheerleader, and would continue to be.
Following his presentation, most in attendance clapped loudly, including a few board members. Johnson told Hall he had "knocked it out the ball park."
Superintendent Gary Mathews also addressed the board, and those in attendance, saying that he felt comparing Newton County to counties like Jasper, Morgan and Walton was unfair because the population was not only different, but also smaller than Newton.
"It's like comparing apples to oranges," he said.
District 4 representative Almond Turner ended the topic of conversation with applauding all school system employees for the hard work they do every day, and said the board has always and continues to support them.
Meadors did not attempt to speak on the topic after all comments were made. However, he did respond to questions later Tuesday night through email.
When asked, Meadors said he was not going to stop writing his columns, and that although he respected Hall's opinion and his right to speak out, "by the same token, I have the right to express my opinion." He added that Hall had told him in a previous conversation that Baxter officials were aware of system achievement data and that it was one of the "greatest challenges of attracting new business and industry."
Meadors also said that since Hall admitted he had not read but a few of his columns, perhaps he such read all of them before making "such an announcement."
"The majority of my columns have highlighted positive achievements in the school system and in surrounding systems. I believe that when we look at honest data we can use it as a place from which to grow. That is my intent. Truth is our friend. Hope is not a strategy... I feel that I am informing the readers in a meaningful way."
Additionally, Meadors addressed Mathews' comments, saying that while he believed the superintendent had "done wonderful things related to school improvement, the two "differ[ed] as is typical on some issues. There is more than one way to look at data."