Henrico County’s Elected Officials: Since You Have Not Stood Up For Our Children, We Will NOT Stand Up For You on November 8

Oct 30, 2011 by

Jim Donati

In less than ten days, Henrico County, Virginia will hold one of its most important and pivotal elections in years.  The reason is simple. The causes are complicated. The need for change in this election is fundamental to the revival and survival of the county’s voiceless, powerless, and defenseless; who are primarily our children, that have been ignored by those presently in office.
This election is not just a matter of voting for a democrat, republican, or independent candidate.

This election is not just a matter of voting for the incumbent or the challenger.

This election represents an ongoing struggle between good and evil, justice and injustice, the status quo and change, and the outdated Southern mentality of oppression and intimidation versus the new Southern mentality of freedom and equality.

This election is also reminiscent of the elections held during Virginia’s Massive Resistance Movement and the Civil Rights Era, in which, just like today, Virginia’s local and state government systematically denied and violated the civil rights of its citizens; justified it, paid for it, and even legalized it.  The oppressive actions came to an end in April 1959, when those at the local and state level that upheld the systematic civil rights violation of Virginia’s citizens through desegregation were stopped dead in their tracks by the Virginia General Assembly; and as a final blow, in 1968, the Supreme Court put an end to the same civil rights violations that have now resurfaced and are rampant within our Commonwealth under the present leadership of Virginia. Evidently, these leaders did not get the “civil rights violations are no longer legal in Virginia” memo from 1968.

We are engaged in a local election of a lifetime, where our votes are our voice, and our power to change the course of this county by replacing those elected officials that have raped and exploited the human and financial resources of this county for decades, for their own benefit, in order to implement their own selfish ambitions, without regard for the welfare of anyone that does not fit into their plans and whom they deem as worthless, which unfortunately happens to be primarily the children of Henrico.

Henrico County’s Board of Supervisors are shamelessly and unapologetically out of touch with the needs of the most vulnerable members of the county, our children; specifically our children with special needs, our children of color, and our children that are economically disadvantaged within our public schools. Varina’s Board of Supervisor “representative,” Jim Donati is a textbook example of this mentality in which he ignorantly claims that “all is well” for our children in Henrico, and arrogantly boasts of how much he has done to improve life for them, despite being unable to provide details.

The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights was compelled to send a team of investigators to Henrico County in May 2011 in order to investigate the county-wide and systematic civil rights violations of our children by school officials and employees, neither Henrico’s Board of Supervisors, nor the school board felt compelled to address the issue of massive civil rights violations, grossly negligent and corrupt school leaders, or the fact that there are pedophiles, child abusers, violent criminals, career criminals, and others of questionable character leading our schools and in the classrooms with our children doing whatever they please.

In addition, no one, at the local or state level in Henrico County, has even spoken of the highly organized effort to “cover-up” these civil rights violations by funneling taxpayers’ monies into the deep pockets of big law firms like Reed Smith, whose attorney, Kathleen Mehfoud, is said to make as much as $450/hour. One cannot help think of how irresponsible each of the boards’ leaders are in authorizing payments of this kind, especially when Melissa Velasquez is already receiving a near six-figure salary from taxpayers as the district’s attorney.

Instead of paying attorneys like Mehfoud as much as $18,000.00 for a week’s worth of work, as she desperately tries to clean up their grossly negligent and criminal acts acts, and attempts to intimidate poor, black, single parents that stand up for their children with special needs;  the school board and Board of Supervisors would put taxpayers’ dollars to better use by investing those funds in our children, our school buildings, and our teachers. $18,000 is more than most Instructional Aides make annually with the district, but the leaders of the school district and county have no hesitation about giving these funds to these law firms.

There is no doubt that, considering the dire economic straits that many schools within the district are in and the fundamental lack of resources like textbooks, overcrowding of schools, and crumbling buildings on the East End;  the district and county should view our children and teachers as more worthy of the tens of thousands of dollars that they readily authorize be given to the Reed Smith Law Firm as “clean up” money.   While the district is hesitant to release the total funds that they spend on outside legal fees, it would be interesting, in the spirit of transparency, for them to publish, on the district’s website, how much of Henrico County taxpayers’ monies have been misallocated to fund legal services in the last decade that could have been avoided if district and county officials had complied with district, state, and federal laws initially. We see that no candidate for the school board or for the Board of Supervisors provided the public with that information.

While the entire county is suffering as a result of incompetent leadership, poorly trained administrators, cronyism, failure to provide and mismanagement of educational resources; the evidence supports the fact that the children and families on the East End of Henrico are victimized the greatest by school and county officials and their corrupt system that promotes, glorifies, and even justifies inequities and disparities, while demanding, and even at times, threatening into silence, those that dare object to the inequities and disparities.

Recently, during a Henrico County Board of Supervisor’s candidate forum in which two challengers, Reese Haller and Tyrone Nelson, were taking on the incumbent, Jim Donati, a nearly two-decade veteran on the board, it was clearly evident that Donati had not only a false sense of security and entitlement to his elected position, but that he is definitely in denial about what “the reality” is in his own district.  In his opening statement, he even went as far as to hypocritically state that he was there to provide “facts and truth.”  Based the responses that he gave his constituents, “facts and truths” evolved into “falsehoods and tall tales.”  It was clear that Donati assumed that his constituents were unaware of the facts and unable to discern the truth.  That evening, Mr. Donati committed one of the most detrimental political sins, he underestimated the intelligence of his constituents and assumed that what he had done for nearly two decades was still acceptable, when in reality, Mr. Donati proved that his time as Varina’s representative has expired just like sour milk.

The fact of the matter is that all of the civil rights violations, child abuse and neglect incidents, deterioration of education on the East End, and degrading of the families on the East End took place on Donati’s watch, and he did nothing to stop the downward trends.   When asked why he has repeatedly failed to address the ongoing civil rights violations by Henrico School officials and employees against mostly students and families of color within his district when the federal government was compelled to do so, Donati stated that he “would not comment on the matter because the issue is in litigation.”  In an effort to fact-check Mr. Donati’s litigation claim, the lead investigator for OCR, Attorney Martha Russo, was emailed immediately to confirm his assertions.  She responded that there was no litigation pending between Henrico County and OCR.

While it was clear that Donati felt that he had no legal or moral obligation to protect and/or defend Henrico’s children or confront the corruption and abuse, Nelson and Haller did not agree.   Nelson identified himself as a father and advocate that indeed had an responsibility to keep Henrico’s children safe in our public schools.  Haller shared that he would  investigate and address the issue of corruption and abuse within Henrico’s schools by district employees.

It became clear that Donati lied to his constituents in order to avoid being exposed for being one of the many Henrico County elected officials that have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to years of severe and ongoing cases of abuse, neglect, discrimination, and retaliation that have been committed and covered up, on their watch, by school officials and employees.

To date, Donati has yet to provide a plan of action for how he, as a Board of Supervisor, will ensure that any and all school district employees and school board members will be held accountable for failing to deal with abusers in the classroom.  Within the last six months, Henrico County Police have arrested two educators for sexual misconduct involving children.  Various sources have confirmed that Superintendent Russo and the school board were fully aware of the threat that both men posed to students, but did nothing to proactively protect children, specifically children with special needs that were victimized.   In fact, Donati insisted that one of the most corrupt and civil rights violating schools in the district, John Rolfe Middle School, lead by illegally appointed Principal Andrew Armstrong, who has a history of misconduct, had students that were “doing fine.”

Now, Donati is not the only elected official whose time and mindset have expired.   Henrico’s school board has two extremely ineffective individuals, Lamont Bagby and John Montgomery, who promised their constituents on the East End that they would address the issues of inequity and disparities as candidates, however, when each of them won their elections, they changed their positions and since then, have claimed that the East End has its fair share.  In addition, Bagby, who is a licensed educator, and Montgomery, who is a practicing attorney, have both engaged in professional misconduct as it relates to unethical and illegal actions as they have attempted to cover up the district’s gross negligence that warrant a thorough review of both of their licenses.

Both men agreed to an illegal confidential settlement agreement which stated, in provision four of the document, that they would not report Kim Taylor, a former special educator at John Rolfe Middle School, for misconduct to anyone outside of the district.  Henrico County Attorney, Tom Tokarz, claimed, in federal court documents, that the district officials had no “legal obligation” to come forward about Taylor’s misconduct or the threat that he posed to the welfare of children. Taylor, who had a twelve-page criminal history prior to being hired by Henrico Schools, which include charges for assault, repeated DUI’s, Contempt of Court, and testing positive for cocaine while being an elementary teacher for Richmond City Schools, subsequently went to another school district after receiving full pay and benefits from the district without completing his teaching contract in 2009.

After receiving a copy of the illegal confidential settlement agreement that was made between Taylor and the school board, the Virginia Department of Education was compelled to hold a Superintendent’s Panel on revoking Taylor’s teaching license in June 2011.  The Virginia General Assembly granted the Virginia Department of Education the authority to go after educators accused of misconduct directly when school districts failed to comply with the law by reporting them to the proper authorities. To date, no criminal actions have been taken against Henrico’s school board members, former or present superintendents, or any other district employees involved in the illegal actions associated with this case.

Both Bagby and Montgomery, along with the remaining school board members, Diana Winston, Lisa Marshall, and Linda McBride are presently facing a $10 million dollar civil rights violation lawsuit that the county of Henrico’s attorneys, Tom Tokarz and Andrew Newby, have been unable to have dismissed after nearly a year of legal motions. The case is awaiting a pre-trial hearing by order of federal court Judge Robert Payne, who has ruled against the district previously for violating the civil rights of students with disabilities, and awarded the injured family over $4 million dollars as a result. In addition, it is probable that the district will be facing even more lawsuits from families with special needs as the OCR investigation continues; exposing the severity and wide-spread nature of the civil rights violations committed by school officials with the knowledge of the school board and Board of Supervisors.

To date, neither they, former Superintendent Fred Morton, nor the other school board members have been held accountable for violating district, state, and federal laws in an effort to cover up the mistreatment of children with special needs. As one parent said following the candidate forum, “I would rather write in Mickey Mouse, then re-elect any of those school board members.”

At the state level, Virginia State Senator, A. Donald McEachin, who also attended one of the OCR forums in which his constituents that were victimized by school official shared their horrific stories, has also failed to properly address the matter.  When he was confronted about his inaction following the forum four months later, the senator stated that he had “contacted OCR.”  The question that was posed back to him is why would he contact the federal government in Washington DC when he should have contacted his own constituents in the same county if he wanted to really take action.  Furthermore, an even more pressing question is why the senator has taken no action for years when he was notified of the abuse and neglect of poor, black, and special needs students. In an extremely defensive response, he recently stated that he had contacted several parents involved, unfortunately, we were unable to confirm which families he had contacted and when.

There are have been numerous requests to county and state officials, including McEachin, encouraging them to introduce legislation that would increase the criminal penalty for failing to report incidents of child abuse, neglect, and other misconduct by school officials and employees. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the fine for driving twenty miles over the speed limit, or reckless driving, is greater than the fine is for an educator failing to report the abuse of a child as required by the state and federal government’s Mandated Reporter Laws.  There seems to be little or no desire from elected officials that claim to be for families and for our children to take basic actions to hold individuals accountable that abuse and neglect our children; then cover it up.

Donati, McEachin, Bagby, and Montgomery are not alone in their failure to properly address the abuse of students within Henrico Schools, Commonwealth Attorney Wade Kizer has also failed our children miserably.  After being contacted repeatedly for years about the issues of child abuse and corruption within Henrico Schools, Kizer simply failed to respond or investigate the matters.   Despite being advised by Brian Gottstein, Director of Communication, for Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, that Kizer does have the authority to investigate these matters, Kizer’s office continues to be non-responsive, and in return, continues to permit Henrico Schools’ classrooms, main offices, central office, and school board to be a haven for child abusers, pedophiles, drug addicts, alcoholics, civil rights violators, and many other criminal elements.

There are three candidates running to replace Kizer.  Shannon Taylor, Bill Janis, and Matt Geary. Neither Taylor, nor Janis have responded to repeated inquiries regarding how they plan to address the issues of mass corruption and abuse by school employees, and the extensive and expensive effort to cover it up by school officials. Matt Geary has.  Geary not only committed to investigating and prosecuting those that violate the law regarding our children, but he was also the only candidate that took the time to research the history of injustice and corruption that thousands of families have been subjected to for years at the hands of Henrico Schools.

The fact that Henrico’s present elected officials have not done everything in their power to protect Henrico’s most vulnerable citizens, our children; speaks volumes about not only their character, but supports the claim of one parent who said that, “their arrogance is second only to their ignorance.  If they think that they cannot be replaced, they are not only lying to us, they are lying to themselves, and we will show them what we do to liars at the polls.  Even if we have to list the write-in candidates, it is time to remove these people.”

On November 8, 2011, the county of Henrico will be at a monumental crossroads.  On that day, the voters of this county will not be placed just in the position of choosing between a pool of candidates, it is much more serious than that.  Instead, when each of the citizens of this county go to the voting polls on that day, they must ask themselves whether they will vote for justice, integrity, hope, and a future for our children; or will they vote for the status quo, corruption, deception, and the continued protection and defense of pedophiles, drug addicts, violent criminals, and unethical/immoral leaders in our schools?

In the words of  James Garfield, “Now, more than ever, people are responsible for the character of those that they elect.  If those that they elect be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”  If there is a republican that supports our children, we will vote for you.  If there is a democrat that stands for our children, we will vote for you.  If there is an independent that fights for our children, we vote for you.  Political parties of affiliations have nothing to do with this election.  Either you are on the right side of justice for our children or you are not; and it is far too late to change sides.

When elected officials have proven themselves to be enemies of our children and sympathizers of those that abuse, neglect, and discriminate against them, then they must be replaced regardless of political affiliation. Period.  You have all of the power and they know it. The power is in your vote, and as Lyndon B. Johnson said, “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”


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