Beaufort News

Man confronts Beaufort County school board member then gets escorted out of the building

Beaufort County School Board member Mary Cordray
Beaufort County School Board member Mary Cordray File

A district official escorted a man attending the Saturday session of the two-day Beaufort County School Board work session after the man confronted a school board member.

After adjournment, John ​Dowling went up to board member Mary Cordray to discuss ​her remarks made during the board's discussion on legal counsel. He took issue with Cordray's comments ​regarding a letter she sent to board member JoAnn Orischak last December that asked her to cease and desist from “all actions which adversely affect the functions and operations of the District and the School Board,” he said.

Months later, the decision made by then-chairwoman Cordray still bothered Dowling.

“I took umbrage at the continued character assassination of Cordray and company to vilify people who disagree with them,” he said Sunday.

According to Dowling, he told Cordray during the confrontation that, “You are one sick coward and it’s going to stop. You have taken a pathological hatred against someone who has never done anything to you and you’ve turned it into a yearlong witch hunt.”

Dowling said Cordray asked him for some respect.

Dowling said his response was, “‘OK, I will. With all due respect…’” and then he said he repeated what he said just before.

He said Cordray responded with, "Don’t threaten me,” which Dowling later said that his words were “absolutely no threat.”

Gregory McCord, the district's chief auxiliary services officer, escorted Dowling out of the building ​shortly after the confrontation began​. He did not allow Dowling time to retrieve his bag and laptop. Another staff ​member ​retrieved his belongings for him.

Dowling said he offered no resistance and left the district office, located in Beaufort, about 10 minutes later.

Cordray then expressed shock at Dowling’s behavior to other board members after McCord removed Dowling from the premises. She said at the time that she would consider calling Beaufort County sheriff P.J. Tanner. Board member Cynthia Gregory-Smalls suggested to ​Cordray​ that she seek a restraining order against Dowling.

Cordray said this isn’t the first time Dowling has engaged in aggressive behavior toward the board.

“I try to behave professionally at all times because I believe it’s in the best interest of moving the district forward,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say anything else.”

Since Dowling's first school board meeting — on Dec. 13 when Cordray issued the letter — he has routinely addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting with remarks calling for more transparency and the resignation of specific board members.

“(Being escorted out) was payback for every critical remark I have delivered to the board and, in particular, to Dr. Moss and Cordray,” he said. “(The exchange) was a private citizen expressing an opinion to a public official. She isn’t used to being talked to that way. Nonetheless she has to endure being talked to that way.”

He was the only private citizen ​​attending the public work meeting Saturday​.​ Dowling said he served three terms as a school board member in Narragansett Regional School District in Massachusetts and later trained school boards for three years as a staffer in the Massachusetts Association of School Committees before he moved to Sun City Hilton Head in 2003.

The public work sessions are recorded and posted to the County Channel, but because this occurred immediately after the board adjourned, it’s unclear if any footage of the incident was captured. Typically, the county posts board meetings to its website in about two to three days.

Board member Geri Kinton stood nearby during the standoff and pulled out her cellphone, though it is unclear if she recorded anything. She did not immediately return an email and phone call for comment Sunday.