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ECISD board member defends social media posts - Odessa American: Education

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ECISD board member defends social media posts

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Posted: Friday, June 5, 2020 4:11 pm

In the wake of what some say are offensive Facebook postings by Ector County ISD trustee Doyle Woodall, Mike Atkins, the attorney for the district says there isn’t much to be done.

There is an image of a hangman’s noose with words above it that say: “If we want to make America great again we will have to make evil people fear punishment again.”

Another has Nazi officers with the words “It’s not murder" above it and “Jews aren’t actually people” at the bottom and another photo of a pregnant woman and another woman with “It’s not murder” on top and “Babies aren’t actually people” on the bottom. Another shows a large groups of Muslims in prayer and says “Spill a few gallons of bacon grease on that street and it would clear out fast,” followed by three American flags.

The comment below says, “This is not Saudi Arabia … This is “Sweet Home” Birmingham, Alabama! Nervous yet?”

Atkins said Woodall, who commented on the memes himself and shared others, said Woodall can post that and still be a school board member. “It’s 1st Amendment,” Atkins said.

Atkins added that Woodall cannot be removed from the board unless he is voted off or commits a felony.

“That’s really all there is the law in connection with the school board. Members have a 1st Amendment right to express their opinions,” Atkins said. “In fact, there’s an old 5th Circuit opinion that’s specific to school board members and says they can.

“... Popular opinion does not automatically lead to being removed from office. If people don’t like it, then the remedy is at the ballot box at the end of the day.”

Atkins said there is no provision in Texas law for censure, as the U.S. Congress does as a formal statement of disapproval.

“The legal issues are real simple. All board members have a right to their opinions. Everything else is in the eye of the beholder,” Atkins said.

Woodall said Friday he thought his posts were private, but at the moment, Facebook isn’t letting him post anything for the next 30 days because the company said something he posted was hate speech. 

Woodall said it was a joke about old, fat white men, which he describes himself as.

Woodall said there are people who may find his thoughts and feelings offensive.

“That’s fine,” Woodall said. “There are people out there that I find that their thoughts most offensive. That’s OK. This is America.”

Woodall said he believes Islam is not a religion.

“I believe it is a geopolitical hate group, just like the skinheads and the white supremacists are. No religion ... cuts off people’s heads for being gay or kills their wives because they weren’t obedient to their husband. ...”

On the noose, Woodall said it is a symbol of crime and justice to him.

“You can identify any word in the world to your own definition. ... You can hijack any word and claim it to mean this, or claim it to mean that. That doesn’t mean that’s what it means,” he said.

“... My daddy used to take me to westerns when I was little. Every time a new John Wayne movie came out we would go to the Scott Theater or the Ector Theater and we would watch westerns. That was justice back in the 1800s and that’s a part of my life that I remember and cherish. It was quality time I spent with my daddy. Six shooters, holsters, cowboy hats all that stuff remind me of my dad ...”

“To me, a noose is a pleasant thought. There’s nothing vile or disgusting. It’s a form of justice. It could have been a gas chamber, electric chair or a firing squad anything else under there. No thought ever crossed my mind that someone would be offended by that. It never occurred to me because I don’t think that way. I don’t mind if people are offended by what I believe because this is America. They’ve got a right to be offended, but I’m not going to cow down to those politically correct people that want to hijack everything.”

He also contends that more white people have been lynched than African Americans. 

The Nazi-anti-abortion posting, he said, was not meant to say what it looked like.

“What that post meant to me is you can’t kill anyone because of their religion, or their color, or what they believe. It is disgusting to me, the same way killing babies is disgusting to me. That was a comment that had nothing to do with degrading or saying anything negative about ... Jewish people. How can anyone think that any living, breathing human being can be exterminated? That is wrong on every level. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with some of my posts is people are seeing it and concluding what I meant by it. The extermination of the Jewish people is revolting and disgusting to me as abortion is today. That should have never happened and I think there is a special place in hell for anyone that murdered a person because they were Jewish.”

If someone has an issue with him, Woodall said he would rather have a face to face conversation with them or on the phone than on Facebook.

“I like to keep my stuff private and with my friends. It’s more of a social club. It’s not a forum for politics or anything else,” Woodall said.

Being an elected official, Woodall said he doesn’t have any responsibility to show restraint on social media.

He said he received a letter from a teacher partly about his posts and the quote on the end was “Never sacrifice who you are just because someone has a problem with it.” Woodall said that has been his motto for years.

To Woodall, the definition of a racist is someone who has harmed or damaged someone with a different skin color in their life.

“I have never (anything) but lift up people. My opinions are my opinions, but I have never brought harm or damage to anyone. I have helped people of every color since I’ve been on the school board to achieve higher positions within the school district because I felt like they worked hard and they deserved a shot at something that they desired to have. I’ll help anybody do anything. These opinions are my opinions. I’m telling you what I think is wrong with America.”

Woodall’s term expires in 2021. His area in Position 4 on the board goes up from Odessa High School and includes San Jacinto and Pease elementary schools; West Odessa, including Buddy West and Murry Fly elementary schools and comes back up.

Woodall said it is a large, sparsely populated area.

Woodall said he called board President Donna Smith, Vice President Delma Abalos, Secretary Tammy Hawkins and trustee Carol Gregg. He expressed respect for each one and said he admires them and listens to their opinions.

“Basically they said we know you; we know what you think; we know you can be a little bit out there, but don’t worry about it,” Woodall said. 

Smith said people are complicated and no one is ever just one thing.

“I’ve worked with Doyle for years now and I have never seen in the board room any indication of anybody except the person who’s making decisions that benefit the students and teachers. The person I know. He and I agree on most issues that touch on students and teachers,” Smith said. 

They don’t talk national politics, but the closer they get to local politics, the more they are pretty much OK.

“We don’t get to choose who we serve with on the board. The voters do that. I figure it’s my job to find out ways to work with people, wherever they come from and whatever they think. I don’t have to agree, but I need to have a good relationship with everybody who’s on the board because that’s the only way we can ever get anything done. Nobody is just one thing. Nobody is just one story, and if you focus on the parts of a person that you don’t agree with, sometimes it blocks your ability to get important work done.”

Smith said she and Woodall have worked on some important issues together that matter to students and teachers.

“I’m not in love with some of those postings,” Smith said. “... It’s just so hard. People are not just one thing. These kinds of controversies they make it difficult for us to do the work that we need to do and so I regret that deeply ... I like Doyle. I respect him as a board member. There are lot of things he believes that I don’t believe. There are a lot of things that we disagree on and I think that’s just the way our world is.”

She added that the culture right now is all about us vs. them and Democrats vs. Republicans.

“We’ve got to find ways to reach across the abyss and it’s not ever going to be perfect and sometimes it’s not going to be pretty, but in the board room none of that ever shows up. I’ve never heard anything that really alarmed me. He’s never taken a vote that I thought ooohh he shouldn’t have done that. In the board room, he and I are both pretty much the same. I can’t think of very many important issues that we’ve been on different sides and we talk a lot.”

She said she remembers times when she has changed his mind.

“That’s what you want is people of different values, people of different belief systems actually talking to one another, listening to one another and trying to come to some kind of contingency,” Smith said.

She added that Woodall is a good board member. Smith said he was just as concerned as the other board members when data was brought to them that showed African American youngsters getting referrals at a disproportionately higher rate than other children.

She added that he will help any teacher or student.

“Honestly, I cannot square the social media posts with the person I know. ... I can’t reconcile the two. If I can only have one, I would rather have actions. And his actions in my context in the realm of the board, they’ve always been really positive and he’s always made, usually most of the time, made decisions that I can defend on the board,” Smith said.

Abalos said she doesn’t have social media so she’s only seen the images they showed on a CBS 7 news broadcast.

“I’m disappointed because I know that Doyle is better than that. I know that Doyle votes on the same kinds of things that I vote for, as far as when it comes to children. I know that this other stuff, I’ve never talked to him about any of that. He’s never mentioned any of that to me.  I know that politically we’re different, but I have a lot of Republican friends that don’t post that kind of stuff. I guess anyone could post it. I just don’t understand it,” Abalos said.

“We represent a very diverse community and we are role models — we should be — for the children whether they’re 3 or they’re 18. And to me, we should be considerate of their feelings.”

She said the community has become more diverse over the years.

“And we represent everyone. If you’re an elected official, it doesn’t matter if you’re the local level or the national level, whoever gets elected is elected to represent all of us; not one section; not one group. If you get voted in, then you’re representing everyone whether they voted for you or not,” Abalos said.

She added that elected officials should be very cautious about what they say and how they say it.

“And social media is never, ever private, from what I understand. I don’t have it, but there’s a reason for that. There is no privacy. You cannot expect privacy from social media,” Abalos said.

Board member Steve Brown said he doesn’t believe Woodall’s intent was to be “ugly” to anyone.

“Certainly any individual has a right to express their thoughts and their beliefs and that certainly was his personal expression,” Brown said. “He has a right to do that.”

Asked if he had a responsibility to be careful of what he says and posts as an elected official, Brown said being an elected official doesn’t limit Woodall’s right to express himself. 

The post that sticks in Brown’s head is the noose.

“I can see they indicated that had been posted early May. I can see where if had been posted say during this past week, it could have certainly been offensive. But I didn’t see it to be given the time it was posted. Everything has to be viewed in context and I don’t think there was any intent on Mr. Woodall’s part to be offensive to anyone,” Brown said.

Longtime community activist Chris Stanley said it’s a sad state of affairs when someone elected to serve “our community’s most precious assets, our children, appears to propagate hate and threats of violence.”

“I am deeply concerned, not only with the symbols of hate, but also the religious bigotry in some of these posts. I know we are better than this ... The diversity of this community is our greatness. Our citizens come from all over the planet. We have to ask ourselves every day, are we a community that will attract the best and the brightest, or are we a community that practices a form of repugnant ignorance,” Stanley added.

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