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Racially insensitive text from school board member included a picture of ‘Mushmouth,’ sources say

Two sources close to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education confirmed Tuesday that a text message inadvertently sent to former Interim Superintendent Kenneth Simington contains a racially insensitive image of a cartoon character.

Former Republican board member Lori Goins Clark sent the text message to fellow board member Dana Caudill Jones as well as Simington, according to a copy of the text message that was mailed anonymously Monday to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The sources confirming the authenticity of the text message asked to remain anonymous because they were not publicly authorized to speak about the sensitive matter.

The text message, which is time-stamped only “Today 12:51 p.m,” says, “Hope your mtg with mushmouth goes well!!!”

Mushmouth was a character with large lips who spoke like he had been overdosed with Novocaine and was voiced by actor Bill Cosby, who would later use the voice in his “Dentist” monologues.

The television show was originally broadcast on CBS from 1972 to 1985.

Simington, who is black, couldn't be reached to comment on Clark's text message about him.

A copy of the image inadvertently sent to former Interim Superintendent Kenneth Simington.

Clark, who is white, resigned on Aug. 29, citing personal and family reasons. She said Thursday that she has apologized profusely for a "personal and relational" mistake, which she said some people have misunderstood. On Tuesday, five board members publicly released a statement regarding the resignation.

Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury read the statement at Tuesday's board meeting at the school system's administrative building at 4801 Bethania Station Road.

"A former board member sent a single text message to one other board member and inadvertently to our recent interim superintendent," Woodbury said. "The message was inappropriate and offensive to the two people that received it.

"When the entire board became aware of the message, discussion immediately began on how to handle its insensitive nature and to address the board member that sent it," Woodbury said. "As you know, that member has accepted responsibility for the message, apologized and resigned her position.

"Around this same time, a staff member posted minutes of a previous closed session where the board discussed confidential personnel matters," Woodbury said. "The document was immediately taken down when it was discovered. While we do not condone the text message, and hate the posting happened, we cannot delve into these matters because they have legal and personnel implications. State laws do not allow us to talk about these issues publicly."

Simington, 58, said on July 18 that he would retire at the end of his contract on Aug. 31. He was named interim superintendent in late February after former Superintendent Beverly Emory resigned to take a position with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The board voted Aug. 7 to hire Angela Pringle Hairston, who is African American, as the new superintendent.

News of Clark's resignation was made public last Thursday, one week after she submitted it. When asked about the delay in notifying the public about Clark's resignation, Brent Campbell, a spokesman for the school system, said that there is no state law that mandates when a state government agency has to tell the public about an elected official's resignation.

Campbell said the Labor Day holiday, the need to tell board members before the public and Hairston's installation as the new superintendent were reasons for the delay in notifying the public about Clark's resignation. 

The five members' statement didn't reveal the details of the text message or identify the school administrator who posted the minutes of its closed session or whether any disciplinary action was taken against that school administrator. The Journal has filed a public records request with the school system for a copy of the message that Clark sent. 

"The past few weeks have not been easy for our board of education," Woodbury said in the statement. "We are here for children. We are here to make our schools great places to learn and better places to work, but recently our work has been overshadowed by behavior that no one on this board condones."

In the remainder of the 433 word statement, Woodbury said that the school board is committed to diversity, inclusion and equity "to provide an excellent education for every student."

Woodbury said that the school board has established a Climate, Culture, and Equity committee to study and improve how the school district manages these issues; formed a School Choice committee that includes many community members to examine the impacts of choice on students of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds; hired a new superintendent who demonstrated a keen understanding of strategies related to diversity, equity and inclusion; and created an Office of Equity, Access and Acceleration, and hope to announce the district’s first ever director of equity.

The statement was signed by Woodbury and fellow board members Lida Calvert-Hayes, Elisabeth Motsinger, Andrea Bramer and Dana Caudill Jones. Barbara Burke, the board's vice chairwoman, read her own statement about the matter at the meeting.

Burke sent an email to the Journal on Monday about the matter.

"I had no involvement with this text exchange, and I absolutely do not support the actions of (Clark)," Burke said. "In fact, I am appalled by her actions and I have spoken up regarding transparency, timeliness, and our commitment to voters."

Burke said she learned that Clark sent Simington the text that she intended to send to another board member, and a third board member was notified almost immediately after the text was sent.

"The remaining six board members were not 'officially' notified of the text or shown the text until almost a month after it was sent," Burke said. "When we were shown this text, we were not shown any other text messages that may have come before or after the text we were shown.

"I fully repudiate the actions of (Clark), and still have many unanswered concerns regarding this matter," Burke said. "I was not personally involved in this situation and because of legal concerns, I have limited ability to comment, particularly on the text itself."

The school board issued its latest statement and met in closed session Tuesday to discuss a personnel matter, according to its agenda. Before the board met in closed session, Motsinger declined to comment about the matter when a Journal reporter asked her about the text message.

"You know I can't talk to you," Motsinger said. "My attorney tells me that."

Photos: WS/FCS Board of Education votes on process for filling vacant seat

What's the new name for Winston-Salem's fair? That's still up in the air, but we know when it'll change.

Taking baby steps toward a new name for the Dixie Classic Fair, Winston-Salem’s general government committee on Tuesday endorsed putting the new name — whatever it turns out to be — into use for the 2020 fair.

With only a few citizens present, a heavy corps of journalists turned out for an expected dramatic moment on Tuesday. The committee, however, passed for the session on what the new name should be.

The full Winston-Salem City Council will vote on Monday whether to chisel into stone the 2020 timing for the new name.

A staff suggestion to call the fair the Twin City Classic didn’t look very healthy after Tuesday’s meeting, with two city council members panning the choice. No other suggestions were put forth on Tuesday. People are saying that Twin City is too narrow for a fair that has a regional reach.

Roger Kirkman, the only person who signed up to speak during the meeting, told council members that the fair is “not of just one county” but has “served the Northwest in the same attendance class of many state fairs.”

Calling the fair by a name that refers only to Winston-Salem, he said, “excludes not only the entire Northwest, but diminishes itself further by leaving out the county it is in.”

Driving home the same point in an email sent to Mayor Allen Joines and council members, Kathleen Garber, the chair of the city’s Fair Planning Committee, said that it was “very disheartening to see multiple recommendations from our committee, city management and fair staff be ignored” in favor of the Twin City name.

“The fair is owned by the city of Winston-Salem, but it draws in attendees, participants, vendors and exhibitors from all over Northwest North Carolina and beyond,” Garber wrote.

Trying to cap off months of controversy, the council voted on Aug. 19 to change the name of the fair but didn’t say what the new name should be.

In April, some residents complained that the word Dixie in the fair smacked of slavery and segregation because of its association with the Old South. Defenders called the name a common regional moniker and cited uses ranging from Dixie cups to Dixie Crystals sugar.

East Ward Council Member Annette Scippio argued for delay in picking a new name during Tuesday’s meeting. She learned from Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe that the city could wait until early 2020 at the very latest to change the name in time for the fall 2020 fair.

Scippio said that with efforts by the chamber of commerce and others to study ways to better promote the city, perhaps the city should wait and see what comes out of that.

That suggestion brought an objection from Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh, who pointed out that the city had previously tossed the name-change task to citizen committees, only to pull it back in favor of the council deciding for itself.

“We could get good feedback from the chamber, but we have already kicked it over once to someone. I would not want to wait on that process.”

The push to set 2020 as the season for a new fair name was made by Besse, who said he didn’t want any needless delay.

“The opinion I get from constituents is clear on one point: ‘Don’t you have other more important things you need to be spending your time on?’ (and) the answer is yes,” Besse said.

“This is a powerful symbolic issue on which we are never going to get a public consensus. We have gotten a lot of input, from Winston-Salem, from all across the country, 14 states, including folks in Hawaii.”

The vote on the committee was 3-0 on Besse’s motion to make the change effective in 2020. The committee members voting were North Ward Council Member D.D. Adams, Besse and Scippio. Member Robert Clark of West Ward was absent.

South Ward Council Member John Larson could be heard telling someone in the audience before the meeting that he was opposed to the Twin City name. In committee, he said he wanted more than one choice for a name.

City administrators said they polled council members before deciding to submit the Twin City name, although they acknowledged that there were multiple suggestions from the council, including Carolina Classic, Winston-Salem Classic and, simply, Classic.

As it now stands, the general government committee will consider the name once again in October.

“We have eight members and probably eight opinions,” Besse said. “At some point, we will have to pick one.”

(tncms-asset)33ff3bc6-d438-11e9-92d5-00163ec2aa770 —(/tncms-asset)

Photos: Winston-Salem city council committee decides when to rename city's fair

47 workers lose jobs after IFB loses contract appeal.

A federal judge has denied a stay request that would have allowed IFB Solutions Inc. to keep one of its three optical contracts with the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs, leaving 47 workers without jobs.

The Winston-Salem nonprofit agency said Tuesday that the contract was terminated Sept. 4.

“We are devastated for our employees whose positions have been eliminated with the loss of this VA contract,” David Horton, IFB’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Horton said it appears likely the other contracts will end on Sept. 30 and Oct. 31, affecting an additional combined 90 employees. Of the overall 137 jobs, 76 are held by employees who are blind and 15 by veterans.

IFB has been providing prescription eyewear to the VA since the late 1990s. The Winston-Salem company is the largest employer of the blind in the United States with about 1,000 employees overall and 556 locally.

“We worked right up to the wire,” Horton said.

“We are working diligently to help broaden and diversify our portfolio with the optical laboratory and move workers with the skills into other jobs.”

The optical work for the VA means $15.4 million in annual revenue for the nonprofit group, formerly known as Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind Inc. That represents nearly 20% of IFB’s total revenue.

“We believe over time we will be able to generate other revenue sources from new vendors, mining more the ones we have now and creating new opportunities, like the retail store,” Horton said.

In October 2018, IFB spent $500,000 to buy a 0.61-acre site at 631 Coliseum Drive in Winston-Salem. The 4,800-square-foot building and parking lot was a former site of Coliseum Eye Associates.

“But, we will have to tighten up during this gap in time and revenue,” Horton cautioned.

Dan Kelly, chief operating officer of IFB Solutions, said the nonprofit agency bought the property with production expansion in mind.

“Low vision is a growing issue, and with our unique expertise in low-vision services, we want to expand how we serve this need in our community,” Kelly said.

Low vision is defined as a condition caused by eye disease, in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye and cannot be corrected or improved with regular eyeglasses.

“We purchased this site as an opportunity to deliver our optical and low-vision services at a location off the IFB Solutions campus,” Kelly said. “We plan to hold a soft opening for the retail site in December and a grand opening in January.”

For decades, IFB’s VA contracts have come through the act known as AbilityOne, passed by Congress in the 1930s, that gives federal government preference to companies that employ the blind or severely disabled. IFB has been providing prescription eyewear products to the VA since the late 1990s.

Four legal cases have been filed in connection with the battle for the VA contracts.

One of the cases involves the VA as the defendant — with IFB joining as an intervenor — and the rival company PDS Consultants Inc. of Sparta, N.J., as the plaintiff.

PDS has provided visual products to the VA since 1998. PDS’s legal claim has been that businesses owned by disabled veterans should have priority over those from AbilityOne, based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006.

That act is also known as Veterans First legislation, one of the ways Congress recognizes and repays disabled veterans for their military service.

The first optical laboratory contract was scheduled initially to end July 31, but received two reprieves — the last one with an Aug. 31 deadline.

The VA granted the second extension of the first contract two days after IFB filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. IFB expected the VA “to continue extending the contract performance until GAO reaches a decision.”

However, an appeals judge in Federal Claims Court denied IFB’s request for a stay by the VA until its protest with the GAO could be heard.

“The toll on our workforce has been intense, especially for our employees who are blind or visually impaired and who face huge barriers to employment,” Horton said.

“More than half of our employees relocated here to take positions with IFB Solutions as the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country.”

“For those employees who’ve just started to put down roots in Winston-Salem, the prospect of losing their positions and possibly leaving our community entirely is heartbreaking,” Horton said.

IFB Solutions is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling from October 2018 that gave priority to veteran-owned small businesses over agencies employing people who are blind in VA contracting awards.

A decision could come in October or November on whether the Supreme Court accepts the appeal. If it does, it likely could take 18 to 24 months for a decision.

“From the beginning, we’ve said that we will fight for these jobs all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Horton said. “Now, we are doing just that with our official filing.”

The VA said in an August statement that “per the federal laws set by Congress, the VA limits competition for contracts to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses in certain circumstances.”

“This is one of those circumstances. This concept was recently affirmed by the Supreme Court in a ruling that Congress also supported in an amicus brief.”

Mandatory source?

The American Federation for the Blind said the U.S. unemployment rate is about 75% for the 4 million Americans who are completely or partially blind.

For nearly three years, IFB has been attempting to preserve its laboratories’ status as a mandatory AbilityOne source for the VA’s eyeglass manufacturing — meaning the VA is required to contract with IFB for the work.

AbilityOne dates back to the 1930s as a mechanism for providing jobs to the blind or those who have significant disabilities, including veterans.

“The VA is about 97% of the production we have with our optical portfolio,” said Dan Kelly, IFB’s chief operating officer, who is blind.

Federal appellate judges ruled in October 2018 and April on the side of PDS, which has provided visual products to the VA since 1998.

PDS claimed in court, based on a Supreme Court interpretation of the federal Veterans Benefits Act of 2006, that businesses owned by disabled veterans should be prioritized for government contracts.

In its filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, IFB wrote that “the harms from the Federal Circuit’s decision are deeply disturbing.”

“Already, the VA has cancelled numerous contracts held by AbilityOne qualified nonprofit agencies, which will result in the near-immediate termination of employment of hundreds of blind and severely disabled individuals, many of whom are veterans themselves.

“The injury does not stop there. The loss of those jobs means there will be a corresponding reduction in the ancillary services that these nonprofit agencies can provide to the blind and severely disabled in their communities.”

IFB Solutions, along with its fellow AbilityOne agencies and National Industries for the Blind, continue to work with members of Congress on a possible legislative solution.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asking him to personally review the status of IFB’s federal contracts. Foxx said Tuesday that her letter to Wilkie has not been acknowledged.

Foxx said she was following up on a July 11 letter endorsed by 33 U.S. House and Senate members expressing support for AbilityOne. Those include Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.

On Tuesday, Foxx said in a statement that "I know that this means much more than a procurement contract to the men and women who overcome physical challenges every day to support their own livelihoods and use their gifts for such meaningful work."

"My heart goes out to all of the IFB Solutions employees who have lost their jobs. IFB has my support in elevating its plight to the Supreme Court and advocating for continuation of remaining AbilityOne contracts.

"Our blind and significantly disabled Americans deserve nothing less.”

Tillis’ office said in August that the senator submitted a formal request that the VA not terminate the IFB contracts.

On Tuesday, Tillis' office issued a statement saying that the senator "remains in close contact with IFB, VA, and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

"We seek a long-term solution that will preserve the mutual coexistence of important job opportunities for both veteran-owned small businesses and blind and severely disabled Americans.”

Winston-Salem woman who played role in bizarre Clemmons killings back behind bars on drug and larceny charges.

Two years ago, Krystal Nicole Matlock became the last person convicted in connection with the brutal murders of two men buried for five years in the backyard of a Clemmons house. Released from prison, she is now back behind bars due to a slew of charges for illegal drugs, breaking and entering, and possession of a firearm.

Matlock, 33, pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court in June 2017 to conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact to second-degree murder. Forsyth County prosecutors said she helped bury Joshua Frederick Wetzler. Self-described Satanist Pazuzu Algarad shot Wetzler multiple times in July 2009 in the living room of the house his mother owned at 2749 Knob Hill Drive. Wetzler’s body stayed in the basement for two weeks and then Algarad’s girlfriend Amber Burch, Matlock and Algarad conspired to bury the body in the backyard.

In October 2009, Burch shot Tommy Dean Welch to death and his body was buried in the backyard as well. The men’s families reported them missing, but their remains were not found until 2014.

Algarad and Burch were each charged with first-degree murder, but Algarad killed himself in state prison before his case came to trial. Burch pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in March 2017 and received a minimum sentence of 30 years.

Matlock received a sentence of three years and two months to four years and 10 months. A judge gave her credit for time served and she was released from prison in May 2018. Her parole ended on Feb. 1 of this year.

But Matlock is now facing charges that she possessed and sold illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. She also faces charges that she broke into the home of a Forsyth County couple and stole certain items, including household electronics and jewelry. She is also accused of trying to sell those items at pawn shops by claiming they belonged to her, even though they were stolen, according to arrest warrants.

Winston-Salem police allege in court documents that she began committing crimes less than a month after her parole ended. She was accused of possessing a firearm on Feb. 22 despite her conviction on a felony — conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact to second-degree murder.

Some of the alleged drug offenses happened on Feb. 27, the arrest warrants said.

Other alleged crimes occurred in March, according to court documents.

One of the allegations is that she got $100 in cash by falsely claiming ownership of a pearl necklace, a pearl bracelet and a pin, the arrest warrants said. She also stole household electronic items, jewelry and tools with a value of $10,000, according to the arrest warrants.

Matlock is featured in a five-part documentary series called “The Devil You Know,” which is currently showing on the Viceland cable channel. The show explores how Algarad lured followers, including Matlock, into his circle of friends and how his actions affected the people around him.

Matlock is in the Forsyth County jail on a $52,000 secured bond. She is scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on most of the charges on Oct. 10. She also has a Nov. 13 court appearance scheduled.