Petition filed for removal

Published 10:05 am Friday, July 5, 2013

ISLE OF WIGHT—The Isle of Wight County Circuit Court confirmed Wednesday that a petition has been filed to have Herb DeGroft removed from the county school board, where he represents the Hardy District. The hearing has been set for 2 p.m. Monday, July 8, in the Isle of Wight Courthouse. Judge Carl Eason is scheduled for the hearing.

The petition was presented by Dottie Harris, president of the county’s NAACP chapter. Rosa Holmes-Turner of Rushmere, who has been the team captain of the recall committee to collect names, said she was with Harris at the filing.

“We feel confident that the judge will accept the petition and do the right thing,” said Holmes-Turner, who added that 238 signatures were obtained, which is 33 more signatures than needed to quality for filing.

Legal counsel would likely be sought next if the judge rejects the petition, said Holmes-Turner.

DeGroft is not the only county official facing a recall. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. today in the courthouse to have Byron “Buzz” Bailey removed as Newport District supervisor. The committee seeking his vacancy collected 301 signatures; 238 were needed to qualify for filing.

DeGroft and Bailey have both been heavily criticized since they were revealed to have privately circulated emails containing crude humor to other board members and county staff. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are the subjects of several of those emails.

The exposure came during a supervisors’ meeting on May 16. Dottie Harris, president of the county’s NAACP chapter, said that she was given a copy by school board member Denise Tynes, who in turn had reportedly got them from an anonymous source.

Harris said the emails were disrespectful to all African-Americans in the county, and has called for both men to vacate their respective offices.

DeGroft and Bailey have repeatedly apologized if anyone took offense, but said they will not resign. DeGroft, however, recently announced that he changed his mind about running for reelection. His term ends this year; Bailey’s term lasts through 2015.

On advice from legal counsel, DeGroft said he could offer no comment before the hearing other than to say, “I think it’ll turn out in my favor.”

Holmes-Turner said a Freedom of Information Act was filed for emails from the school board. She reviewed many of the 100 emails, which she said showed that work email accounts were used.

But for her, all this is not a personal matter.

“I know him [DeGroft] very well. I respect him,” she said. “There are no ill feelings.”

She explained that a person at work who receives an offensive email and then forwards it while on official business, risks being fired.

A teacher who does the same would likewise face dismissal, and a student could be expelled.

“Mr. DeGroft has to follow the same rules,” Holmes-Turner said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t like him, but he cannot perform his duty. You can’t have a double standard on that.”

She said she’d welcome for him to continue working in the community, but “in this capacity you have lost trust and are not fit to do your duty.”