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OPINION: Parents, public needs to behave themselves at meetings
Tom Spigolon
Tom Spigolon

State legislators supposedly work part time but actually work about two-thirds time if compared to a job in the real world.

And depending on the legislator’s willingness to put in the extra time, many often work full time jobs representing their districts.

Their pay for sacrificing their time with family, community and working at other jobs is around $17,000 annually and has not risen since 2008.

State lawmakers are only in the limelight for about four months of the year and their work is done miles away from much of Georgia. But they still only earn $17,000 annually for what can be a full-time job.

On the other hand, local officials earn their money every day and have to work for it year-round — with absences very apparent when cities or counties have governing bodies as small as Newton County’s.

Newton County School Board members earn around the same amount as state legislators. County Board of Commissioners members earn $25,000 annually, according to the county charter.

We’ve been lucky in Newton County that elected officials have not felt the full heat of parents’ anger at the requirements imposed by the pandemic and other cultural changes being considered.

Reuters detailed the experience of Loudoun County, Virginia, school board member Brenda Sheridan who received a letter addressed to one of her adult children that threatened them unless she resigned her seat on the board.

The letter essentially stated the writer believed the board member was of the same political persuasion as the late Fidel Castro, and described her in other derogatory ways before threatening to kill both of them. 

Parents have felt free to make terroristic threats and give hostile messages to board members nationwide because of policies on curtailing the coronavirus, bathroom access for transgender students and the teaching of America’s racial history — including a course that has never been taught below college level.

“Reuters documented the intimidation through contacts and interviews with 33 board members across 15 states and a review of threatening and harassing messages obtained from the officials or through public records requests.

“The news organization found more than 220 such messages in this sampling of districts. School officials or parents in 15 different counties received or witnessed threats they considered serious enough to report to police.”

Others from outside the school board areas felt free to threaten board members they didn’t agree with — as  in the case of Sheridan.

Gwinnett school board members felt so threatened at meetings in 2021 they called the police on some meeting attendees. Of course, this was in the midst of a COVID surge before many were vaccinated and people were feeling frustrated about mask policies.

The school board meeting in Gwinnett County was disrupted when attendees refused to wear masks and objected to students, teachers and staff being required to wear masks.

Congressional Republicans even injected themselves into the controversy by objecting to a move by the Justice Department to investigate violent threats made against local school board members and teachers, arguing that the federal agency is “policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents,” a Tucson, Arizona, online news publication wrote.

“Violence and true threats of violence should have no place in our civic discourse, but parents should absolutely be involved in public debates over what and how our public schools teach their children, even if those discussions get heated,” according to a letter led by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

What should be called protected speech by citizens and concerned parents? And what should be considered threats directed at board members?

In Florida, parents and protesters reportedly disrupted a meeting by wanting to discuss items that were not on the agenda such as critical race theory.

In a video that went viral, a school board member in Arizona told of being followed home, threatened by protesters camping out outside her home.

It’s more than understandable for parents to be upset about the mask policies that we all endured during the last year. Especially as it affected their children.

But objections to an elected official’s stand on issues that have little or nothing to do with today’s children — such as a theory which has never been taught in Georgia schools and almost certainly never will be — is a matter to be handled at the ballot box.

As with anything else, screaming most likely won’t change any minds and may make matters worse. 

And threats from strangers and screaming parents likely will push out good elected officials.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at