Cornwell responds to Goodwyn’s comments

Published 11:32 am Thursday, July 14, 2022

Berlin/Ivor District Supervisor Christopher D. Cornwell Sr. issued a strongly worded response to recent comments made by Southampton County School Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn in which she denounced what she described as disrespectful behavior from the Southampton County Board of Supervisors toward the school board in connection with the status of the school roofs.

Christopher D. Cornwell Sr.

At the board of supervisors’ May 24 meeting, Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards said that “a lot of us on the board are getting calls from teachers and citizens and students that the roofs in the schools are leaking.”

With the three-year warranty on workmanship for the school roofs expiring in September, the board of supervisors voted to adopt a resolution imploring the school board to fix the roofs before the expiration date and requesting to receive a copy of the results of roof surveys and any associated warranty claims that may be filed.

When addressing the resolution during the school board’s June 13 meeting, Goodwyn spoke directly to her fellow board members about the topic.

“I am as baffled as you are by the board of supervisors’ unhealthy obsession with school roofs, but we have passed the resolution on to our attorney, and we will wait to see what our attorney says we should do from here,” she said.

Later, she noted, “I find it very upsetting to be questioned every month about a leaking roof when we have said over and over again, ‘We are addressing it. We are aware of it. We know what’s going on. If people are coming to you about a roofing issue, tell them to come to the school board meeting. Don’t come to the board of supervisors, because once you appropriate the money, then trust us to spend it wisely.’”

She took issue with board members wanting to come to see the roofs for themselves and asking for proof that leaks are being addressed.

Prior to the board of supervisors’ meeting on June 28, Cornwell posted a letter in response to Goodwyn’s comments that can be found in its entirety on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/christopher.cornwell.31.

In that letter, which he later sent to The Tidewater News, Cornwell wrote, “The fact of the matter is that the (school) roofs, to include the buildings under them, belong to the citizens of Southampton County that paid for them! They have a right to look at them whenever they want to, this isn’t disrespectful. There is nothing at all ‘unhealthy’ about fiscally responsible transparent accountability!”

He then provided a definition of “constituent” — “being a voting member of a community or organization and having the power to appoint or elect.”

“The school board doesn’t have any, nor in their minds, the obligation to answer to any of the aforementioned described ‘constituents,’ but here is what a few of mine have had to say,” he said, introducing a list of quotes, many of which were made in the comments section of The Tidewater News Facebook post of its story “Goodwyn decries ‘disrespect’ from board of supervisors.”

“If you addressed the problem, you wouldn’t be having to deal with questions about it,” Clare Overman wrote, addressing Goodwyn about the roofs. “A leaking roof, or any other water issue, can lead to mold or other health hazards, especially as time passes without it being resolved. The fact that it is ‘being addressed’ for months is a major concern. I would hope that the lack of repair is more distressing than being questioned, aka being held accountable.”

“You find it upsetting to be questioned EVERY MONTH??” Quadaeshua Boone wrote.

“Every cent spent should have a receipt and be accounted for,” Becky Slezak wrote. “And those in question, if they are doing their duties honestly, shouldn’t mind being questioned and should be able to say, ‘Here is the proof’ without their feelings getting hurt.”

Holly Ferrell wrote, “Step aside, there are plenty who can do this job… it’s time to clean house, all new leadership staff at the school board office and on the school board. Why are a lot of our best teachers leaving? This is why…”

Cornwell stated, “According to School Board Chairman Deborah Goodwyn, ‘A lot of school building maintenance was deferred, so then, the school roofs were in disrepair.’ This is exactly what we are, through our due diligence, attempting to prevent from occurring once again! The board of supervisors just spent $5.9 million worth of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on replacing roofs that were only about halfway through their life expectancy. 

“The new roofs have a contractor warranty that runs out in September and that we hear to this day are still leaking, but yet we, the BOS, have an ‘unhealthy obsession with the school roofs’ and are just expected to, with the rest of the citizens of the county, simply ‘trust you to spend it wisely,’ that hasn’t historically worked out so good,” he continued. 

He then referenced another quote from Goodwyn’s comments in which she said, “I think that the board of supervisors should understand that we are co-equal boards.” 

“Well, not exactly,” Cornwell wrote. “You see, we are elected by the people, to represent the people, to be good stewards of what the people contribute to our local economy; you quite frankly are not.”

Deborah Goodwyn

During the June 13 school board meeting, Goodwyn said, “I think what happened was that when the board of supervisors invited us to come stand before the inquisition and answer questions and we declined, they took that as an affront. But what we were trying to tell them is that ‘we hear what you’re saying. We’re concerned about the roofs. We’ve hired a roofing inspector. We have monthly inspections. We have a roofing person. We’ve adhered to all the guidelines concerning roofing.’”

She indicated that nevertheless, the board of supervisors keeps responding by asking to enter the schools and see proof that these things are happening.

“That reminds me of maybe back in the mid-20th century in the 1960s when social workers and landlords would go to rent-subsidized houses and say, ‘Show us who lives here. Prove to us who’s living in this building,’” Goodwyn said. “Or it harkens back to tenant farming when you’d say, ‘Tell me who’s living here. Prove to me that you’re telling the truth.’ And I think that that’s disrespectful.”

Cornwell wrote, “Deborah Goodwyn’s referral to subsidized housing and tenant farmers, hmm? We think we all know what you are trying to explain here, but what exactly are you trying to explain here? I’m appalled by your implication!”

Asked, in a later interview, what he thought Goodwyn was implying, Cornwell stated, “Both tenant farming and subsidized housing of the ’60s were riddled with racial disparities and countless other issues that we as a nation have worked for decades to overcome; I fail to see any plausible benefit at all to comparing us to such a profoundly different set of circumstances.”

In his June 28 letter, Cornwell next stated that on Nov. 10, 2020, Goodwyn provided the following response to the board of supervisors’ formal invitation to have a representative of Southampton County Public Schools join the BOS in the sharing of information on the status of the roof situation during supervisors’ regular board meeting: “A representative of the Southampton County School Board will not be available to give a presentation on the school division’s roofing project at the Nov. 24 meeting of the board of supervisors.” 

“A far cry from the ‘we cannot come to your meeting’ as proclaimed in their June school board meeting and as reported in The Tidewater News,” Cornwell wrote. “A stark contrast between the meaning of ‘cannot come’ as most recently portrayed and ‘will not be available’ as originally disseminated in the school board’s refusal to join us as a self-proclaimed ‘co-equal board.’ You want to talk about disrespect? This public information that I believe belongs to the people that fund it in the first place was then only obtained via the courts through the filing of multiple (Freedom of Information Act) requests!”

Cornwell stated that he is elected to represent the people and to be a good, fiscally responsible steward of their hard-earned tax dollars, especially during these uncertain and challenging economic times.  

“You, on the other hand, are not,” he stated, addressing Goodwyn. “There is nothing at all disrespectful about requesting to see when, how, where and for what purposes any public funds are dispersed for the betterment of our SCPS.”

The board of supervisors briefly addressed the school roofs during the time outlined on its agenda near the end of its June 28 meeting.

Southampton County Administrator Brian S. Thrower noted that supervisors had correspondence in their board meeting packets from Stephen Burns, of Red Letter Roofing, the roofing contractor that worked on school roofs.

“It looks like they’re attributing some of the leaking problems to other issues not associated with the roofs, and that’s kind of where we stand with that,” Thrower said.

“But they’re being repaired, right?” Newsoms District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike asked.

“That I’m not sure about,” Thrower replied. “That’s a school maintenance issue on their side, but you do have the correspondence here from the roofing contractor saying that they think it’s not associated with their work with the roofs, any leaking that may be occurring.”

“Alright,” Edwards said. “We’ve done all we can do with that. I think what we started out (doing) to bring that to attention, it seems that it’s been brought to attention, and hopefully it will be taken care of. Any further comments on that?”

There were none.