State Board Of Education Member Talks To News 9 About Heated Meeting

Thursday, January 27th 2011, 10:50 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Board of Education member Herb Rozell spoke to Robin Marsh on News 9 This Morning Friday about the comments that have some calling for an apology and his resignation.

Two Oklahoma state senators are calling on the former state senator to step down because of what he said to an expectant mother hired to work at the state Department of Education.

Just 20 minutes into Thursday's meeting with new state superintendent Janet Barresi, things became heated when board members Rozell and Tim Gilpin started questioning her authority.

Barresi: "I was elected by nearly 56 percent of the vote."
Rozell: "I could care less how you were elected. You're just a member of this board."
Barresi: "I am accountable to the voters of the state of Oklahoma. I am accountable to the Legislature. You sir were appointed by a governor who is no longer in office.
Gilpin: "You are a member of this board, you are not dictator of this board."

But heated words continued after Barresi noted during Thursday's board meeting that new legislative liaison Jessica Russell is expecting to give birth in April.

Herb Rozell asked if Russell planned to take maternity leave in May while the Legislature is in session -- then said "If she takes six weeks off in May, she's worthless to us."

Russell left the room in tears.

Listen To The Board Meeting Online

Sens. John Ford and Clark Jolley want Rozell to resign. Jolley said Rozell's comment was "archaic, misogynistic and deplorable."

"I think what he did today was open himself as well as the state of Oklahoma up to a lawsuit," Sen. Jolley added.

Even Governor Mary Fallin took offense.

"Shame on them for making fun of a pregnant woman. I'm sorry, but it's just disgusting to hear those type of comments being made," said Fallin.

But Gilpin later defended the remarks.

"Barresi raised the issue and introduced her as this individual in a less than full capacity and that's why the question came up if she would be able to work when we were at our busiest," said Gilpin.

Three staff members were also told during the meeting they couldn't take their jobs. The board refused Barresi's request to hire Jennifer Carter as her chief of staff, Damon Gardenhire as communications director and Jill Geiger as director of finance.

Board members expressed concerns that the three had been giving directions to Department of Education employees since Barresi took office on January 10, 2011.

Damon Gardenhire, who has been acting as Barresi's chief spokesperson, but was rejected by the board Thursday, said this is unusual.

He said in the last five years, nearly 90 percent of new hires at the state Department of Education never went before the board or were simply rubber stamped. Board members expressed concern about these staff members' qualifications.

During an interview Friday morning with News 9's Robin Marsh, Rozell said he didn't mean the employee was worthless, he just wanted to make sure the worker was there during a crucial time. 

When Robin asked if Rozell planned to apologize for the comments, he replied, "If they took them wrong, I apologize.  I didn't mean to belittle the lady in any way.  Heaven forbid, I don't do that.  So if they took it wrong, I don't know how to handle that. I wasn't talking about her.  I even voted to hire her."