Beaufort News

New school board chair supports Moss, cracks down on public comments

File: Mary Cordray, vice-chairman of the Beaufort County School Board, talks to members of the board during their meeting Oct. 12, 2015, at the Beaufort County School District Office in Beaufort.
File: Mary Cordray, vice-chairman of the Beaufort County School Board, talks to members of the board during their meeting Oct. 12, 2015, at the Beaufort County School District Office in Beaufort.

Mary Cordray -- a defender of Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss -- is the school board's new chairwoman following Tuesday's 7-3 vote.

Cordray will be joined by newly elected vice chairwoman Laura Bush and new secretary Evva Anderson. The two have remained mum on Moss' involvement in the controversial hiring of his wife, Darlene Moss.

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The elections are proof that the community's repeated calls for the school board to oust or discipline Jeff Moss have fallen on deaf ears, said some of the residents who attended Tuesday's meeting. Reporting by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette revealed that Darlene Moss was hired after Jeff Moss altered the school district's nepotism rule.

Richard Bisi, founder of CARE, Citizens About Responsible Care, expresses his feelings about Superintendent Jeff Moss and the members of the Beaufort County School Board during the Oct. 6, 2015, school board meeting in Beaufort.

"In a nutshell, the election of those individuals tonight means the status quo," said Richard Bisi, founder of Citizens About Responsible Education, a community organization that seeks to make the board more accountable and transparent. "Nothing will change. It's as if very few people on the board are really listening to what the public has to say."

Cordray has previously called the controversial hiring an "adult issue," and then refused to comment further, saying the focus should be on students.

Mary Cordray, vice-chairman of the Beaufort County School Board, announces that former chairman Bill Evans had resigned as chairman and his school board seat at the end of the school board meeting Oct. 6, 2015, in the Beaufort County Council Chamb

After the meeting Tuesday, she said she wished rules on nepotism had never been under the superintendent's purview. But, she said, she does not think Jeff Moss violated any rule or acted unethically in approving his wife's hire.

She added that she's been troubled by some residents' "lack of acceptance of the different perspectives" on the issue.

"There's this, 'My way is the right way and my way is the only way,' and my brain does not function that way," Cordray said. "There's not always one right way, and there's not just one way to get there."

While Cordray made a brief statement to the public upon her election, her words seemed only to anger most of the 20 people at the meeting.

She announced that questions raised by the public had prompted the board to review its rules, which state public comments are meant to relate solely to that night's agenda and that speakers may not call individual school board members by name.

"We will adhere to these rules," she said.

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"Are you suggesting you want to put a muzzle on us? I don't understand," responded Bisi. He quickly adopted the moniker "Mr. X" to refer to Jeff Moss "because I guess I can't use his name anymore, which is preposterous."

Other attendees echoed his sentiments, and some scoffed and muttered "censorship" when Cordray banged her gavel to stop another speaker from using the names of board members Joseph Dunkle and JoAnn Orischak.

"When I look at the board, some of what I see is not pretty," Beaufort resident Calvin Jordan said. "I do not see strong leadership. I do not see strong courage and I see some irresponsibility."

Four others also spoke critically of the board, including former board member Jim Bequette and Greater Bluffton Republican Club President Joseph Iaco, who presented his online petition calling for the resignation of Jeff Moss.

"There's something wrong with the school system and the superintendent if 500 people would make these comments on the public record," Iaco said, adding that board members should consider the petition as they complete Moss' annual evaluation in the coming weeks.

"These are residents of the community and these are your constituents speaking to you, so that has to count for something," Iaco added.

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The public's comments also followed remarks by board member Earl Campbell, who said he wanted to respond to recent gripes about board processes. In many cases, he said, the board is bound by law to discuss personnel, legal and student matters behind closed doors, and prohibited by board rules from responding to public comments.

Campbell added that some board members have received threats from the public, though he did not elaborate further.

"When you dig a ditch with me or any other board member, make sure you don't fall in that ditch, and I would suggest anyone who made threats read the story of Mordecai, Haman and Esther," Campbell said, referring to the biblical story that ends with the antagonists' hanging. "That's all I wanted to say."

Dunkle furrowed his brow as Campbell spoke in the seat next to him.

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Dunkle was also nominated for the board chairmanship by Orischak, the most vocally critical board member of Moss, Evans and the board itself. Orischak's questions about Evan's involvement in the hiring controversy led to him voluntarily stepping down last month.

Orischak said Monday that she supported Dunkle because the two share many of the same views on transparency and responsibility.

Bisi, of CARE, said Monday he hopes to find a candidate for Evans' replacement who will advocate for the same and hold the superintendent and school district accountable.

A special election will be held Feb. 2 to fill the District 2 seat, representing portions of Beaufort, Lady's Island and Fripp Island.

Petition filing closes Dec. 1, though no one had filed as of Tuesday evening, said county elections director Marie Smalls.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at