You may have seen the story on the throw-down between state Senator Scott Lautenbaugh and Ben Gray in the OWH. They reported it as follows:
It all started with a meeting that five school board members held last week to gather community input on the selection of the successor to retiring Omaha Public Schools Superintendent John Mackiel.
Gray and Jim Vokal, chairman of the board for the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, were among about eight people invited to give their opinions. Gray is co-chairman of OPS’ African-American Achievement Council, and his wife, Freddie, serves on the school board.
Vokal spoke first, and he told The World-Herald he suggested that the next superintendent have budget experience in reallocating resources while showing fiscal restraint.
Gray spoke next and, according to both men, took issue with Vokal’s comments.
Several people in the meeting provided differing accounts of what Gray said. But according to Gray, Vokal and another person in the room, the word “racist” was used in some manner.
Gray said he brought up Lautenbaugh’s proposal, which he says is sexist and racist.
So Lautenbaugh took to the floor of the legislature to address Councilman Gray’s accusations of racism and sexism. We offered him the chance to expand here on Leavenworth Street, and Senator Lautenbaugh issued the following press release:
In a day where our Omaha children compete with students from not only Chicago and L.A., but China too, we have to ensure our Omaha students get a high-quality education. Yet today, when looking at our student proficiency scores, it appears many of our students are falling behind the rest of the world.
I have been reflecting on the recent press coverage of my effort to reform the OPS Board, and City Councilman Ben Gray’s comments dismissing the effort as “racist and sexist”. I have read Councilman Gray’s explanation – as reported in the press- that because the board is made up of 11 women and “3 minorities”, then criticism of the board is criticism of women and minorities.
This is obviously a ridiculous, convenient and despicable attempt by Councilman Gray to insulate the board from any criticism whatsoever. It is this type of thinking that has made the Board what it is today. We need change.
But it is worse than that– Councilman Gray made his comments about racism when Jim Vokal was discussing the need for a new superintendent to be fiscally responsible, as I understand it. The fact that Councilman Gray found that to be racist says much more about his unusual view of minorities than anyone else’s.
When he was called on it, he decided to claim that he wasn’t talking about Mr. Vokal (the man whose comments he interrupted to charge racism). He was instead talking about my proposal to change the board as being racist and sexist. That seems very hard to believe.
As I understand it, the OPS board members present at this meeting did not object to these outrageous comments by Councilman Gray. This is worse than disappointing.
This is all more disturbing because Councilman Gray is co-Chairman of the school district’s African-American Achievement Council. I worry about message it sends to our youth to have someone who so recklessly and baselessly throws around wild charges of racism and sexism in a position of authority or leadership at OPS.
As such, I am calling upon the OPS Board to apologize to Mr. Vokal — both for the outrageous treatment he received from Councilman Gray at the meeting in question, and for the Board’s failure to disavow and denounce Councilman Gray’s conduct at the time. Further, I am calling on the Board to ask Councilman Gray to step down from his position with OPS’s African American Achievement Council, and to remove him if he refuses to go. Race-baiting and dishonest, irresponsible charges should not be tolerated, and OPS should not be promoting Councilman Gray’s involvement with the youth in our schools if these comments of his as reported actually reflect his views.
We can all agree that Ben Gray is absolutely flippin’ nuts here and we are happy to see that Lautenbaugh stood up to his bullying, slow-witted tactics of screaming “Ism!” when he can’t muster up a rational argument.
But other than that, nice job Councilman. Your move.