OPS board president holds position following vote

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August 7th, 2012

Omaha, NE – After last week’s calls for the resignation of Omaha Public Schools Board President Freddie Gray, tensions came to a head in last night’s public OPS board meeting, where it was decided in an 8-4 vote that Gray would remain in her position.

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For Rodney Ray and other Omaha residents calling for Gray’s ousting, a five minute time limit per person for the board’s public hearing just wasn’t enough. “Ok, it’s your game,” Ray said to members of the board. “I hate to play it. I’ll tell you: that’s one more reason why Gray’s got to go.”

A two-thirds vote was required to remove Gray from the presidency; only four of the twelve members supported her ousting. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson, KVNO News)

Over 200 people packed the small board room meeting to express their opinions on what could be best summed up as a messy situation.

For several months, Gray and fellow members of the OPS board have met staunch criticism. In June and July, a botched attempt at hiring a new superintendent to replace the retiring John Mackiel ended in controversy. The board had initially offered the position to then-Des Moines public schools superintendent Nancy Sebring. They were soon forced to accept Sebring’s resignation after a series of email correspondences came to light detailing an extra-marital affair.

But two weeks ago, the Omaha World-Herald reported Gray and an OPS board attorney knew about the sexually explicit emails before they were published, and they failed to inform the rest of the board. Those accusations lead to last week’s board member meeting, where it was ultimately decided a vote would take place Monday night on whether to remove Gray as president of the board.

Addressing members of the board, former Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers encouraged the board to vote against retaining Gray as the Omaha Public School Board’s president. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson, KVNO News)

Monday, before opening the floor to public comment, Gray gave her own assessment of her seven month tenure as board president.

“I am pleased to say I was able to represent you quite effectively,” Gray said. “We need to continue that work and to continue to develop an understanding among others of who and what the Omaha Public Schools really is.”

Those in attendance were split in their support and opposition.

Former Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers spoke in opposition of retaining Gray, invoking historic scandals as comparisons. “The question really is the one asked at Watergate,” Chambers said. “‘What did they know and when did they know it?… There are sexually explicit emails. For two grown women to say they didn’t know what that meant boggles the mind.”

Chambers is in the midst of a tough race against State Senator Brenda Council for his old seat in the Nebraska Legislature. Freddie Gray and her husband, Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray, are key allies of Council.

After an hour of public comments, the board motioned to vote. While a two-thirds vote was required to remove Gray from the presidency, only four of the twelve members supported her ousting. The rest cited their decisions to keep Gray on as a testament to her success as an administrator during her seven month tenure. Members like Shirley Tyree, called Gray’s recent actions a forgivable “mistake.”

“We all make mistakes,” Tyree said. “A lot of times we make a mistake when we really don’t mean to… Everything that tells us when we are right or when were wrong, but we are all human.”

Gray will continue to serve as president of the OPS board. In the meantime, she and her husband may face an unrelated ethics complaint from the Douglas County Republican Party charging Gray approved thousands of dollars to benefit nonprofits involving her husband. The party said it planned to file a complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. But as of Tuesday, the commission says no complaint has been filed. Gray has responded to the charges saying Ben Gray received no personal financial gain and no conflict of interest exists.

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