AND JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
The School Board on Tuesday, May 21, chose Michael Mullins to represent Rose Hall — a unanimous pick by a sometimes divided body to fill a vacancy.
Yet the following morning, Mullins — a retired firefighter who had planned to run in a special election to keep the district seat — decided not to take the job after questions arose about offensive social media posts.
The schools released a statement on Wednesday, May 22, confirming Mullins was out as the Rose Hall representative.
“Social media posts that Mullins made in 2015 were disrespectful and offensive and do not align with our values as a school system,” the statement read. “The School Board was not aware of and does not condone this kind of speech.”
That afternoon, the board voted during an emegency meeting to postpone naming a replacement until Tuesday, May 28, and it will use the additional time to verify the residency for both remaining candidates – Jessica Owens, a curriculum writer for the Virginia Department of Social Services, and Seko Varner, a former candidate for the School Board.
The posts circulated on Facebook following the vote to appoint Mullins and led to calls for the School Board to reconsider its pick. Mullins did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. He acknowledged the posts as his in an email to the School Board.
Bill Bailey, president of Virginia Beach Professional Firefighter Local 2924 and a friend of Mullins, said during an interview that Mullins decided to withdraw to avoid being a distraction.
“He owns up to it, and he thought the right thing to do was decline the appointment,” said Bailey, who added that he was not speaking in his capacity as union head. “He didn’t want to be a distraction from the important work the School Board has to do.”
Mullins in an email to the board on Wednesday, May 22, seemed critical of the people who dug up the posts. The schools released the Mullins email in response to a request by The Independent News.
“They are my posts and my responsibility and are for the most part out of context,” Mullins wrote. He wrote that he felt critics “bypassed all of the good things I have done and posted to find lightening rods” and were “trashing my name and reputation.”
“I came to do a job and did not sign up for this,” Mullins wrote. “I do not need or deserve this treatment, nor does my family.”
He declined the appointment and wished them luck with the new selection.
On Tuesday, May 21, after meeting in a closed session to interview the three candidates for the vacant seat, the board decided that Mullins would be the interim Rose Hall representative until the result of a special election. It was a unanimous vote, though School Board Member Dorothy Holtz, who holds an at-large seat, was absent due to an illness.
“I don’t identify as a politician,” Mullins told The Independent News following the meeting. “I am the boots-on-the-ground guy, the blue collar worker that was given an opportunity, and I’m going to make use of that opportunity to the best of my ability.”
The Windsor Oaks resident said he intended to run in the special election.
The selection of Mullins, however brief, came after former School Board Member Joel McDonald acknowledged moving out of the Rose Hall District during his term and a judge said the seat was vacant.
Following the meeting called after Mullins backed out, School Board leadership said social media checks will be part of any reviews going forward.
School Board Chairperson Beverly Anderson said she was “slapping myself on the wrist” that social media had not been checked. “We could have asked the question,” she said.
“Obviously, we had a lapse there,” School Board Vice Chairperson Kim Melnyk, who represents the Princess Anne District, said. “And it won’t happen again.”
Varner attended the meeting on Wednesday, May 22. He also was a finalist for appointment to the Rose Hall District seat on the City Council that was filled this past month.
“Last night, I shook the winner’s hand,” he said, speaking of Mullins.
Varner, among others, woke up to a much different circumstance.
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