• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Richardson responds to critics of her social media posts

PARENTS, STUDENTS AND OTHERS participated in a protest outside Woodford County High School prior to Monday’s Woodford County Board of Education meeting. They held up signs that condemned board member Allison Richardson for her recent Facebook posts and urged her to resign. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

In the wake of public criticism and calls for her resignation after a Facebook comment that’s been described as racist, board member Allison Richardson said, “My post was a call to support all small businesses.”

Commenting on #BuyBlack Friday Starts Today, Richardson posted: “I’m officially going to have solid haters. I’m a small business owner and This is NOT okay! If you think it is … YOU are a racist. Plain and simple. BUY FROM ALL SMALL BUSINESSES!!! What the hell did I do bringing kids into this f***ed up world?”

She said her post was twisted by others into something it isn’t.

“My constituents voted me into this seat knowing exactly who I am and what I stand for. Unlike many in a political position, I have not changed who I am to smooth things over and vote with the crowd to keep the peace,” said Richardson.

“I am a passionate person ...”

Richardson said her passion goes beyond the color of someone’s skin, the religion they choose and the person they choose to love or how they choose to live their personal life. “I will continue my fight on this board,” she said, “as long as I’m allowed to.”

Her statement came nearly three-and-a-half hours after a protest by students, parents and others outside Woodford County High School. The 25 to 30 people stood near the flagpole before the meeting and held up signs asking for Richardson’s resignation.

Board member Sherri Springate urged the board to adopt a code of conduct and social media policy for its members in the wake of Richardson’s recent Facebook comments.

Springate noted numerous people have spoken out about Richardson’s offensive posts in the past, but her behavior continues.

Springate was interrupted by board Chair Debby Edelen after reading several of Richardson’s posts including one from last winter’s University of Kentucky and University of Louisville basketball game that stated “both of these teams aren’t anything more than trashy hood thugs ...”

“Why,” asked Springate, “would you refer to predominately African-American, 18- to 22-year-old male college athletes as trashy hood thugs?” She also began reading posts critical of Gov. Andy Beshear’s mandate to wear a mask, which led to a back-and-forth involving Springate, Edelen and Richardson that resulted in them talking over one another as their voices got louder and louder.

“Stop. Stop,” Edelen said as Springate continued reading Richardson’s posts. “I’m calling a recess. Five minutes. Five minutes.”

Edelen then called the meeting back to order to allow board attorney Grant Chenoweth to tell the board that as chair she has the duty to maintain order and if people cannot hear what’s being said. “Calling timeout was not just okay, but was required under the Open Meetings Act,” he said.

At the start of Monday’s meeting, Edelen read a letter from the Kentucky State Conference of the NAACP in response to a petition, which has more than 450 signatures, asking for Richardson’s resignation.

The letter stated the NAACP supports efforts to address concerns related to the “unethical” conduct of Richardson, which indicate she does not understand the effects of systematic racism. It further stated Richardson is subject to removal under state law (KRS 156.132) for being guilty of “immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency, willful neglect of duty, or nonfeasance.”

Chenoweth said nothing authorizes the local school board to take action against a board member. The law does authorize the state commissioner of education and state Board of Education to do so, he explained.

Chenoweth said the board also has no legal authority to enforce a code of conduct or a social media policy for its members.

The board eventually scheduled a work session on Monday, Jan. 25, to discuss developing a code of conduct and social media policy for the board after listening to Chenoweth’s legal advice.

“There is nothing within your statutory authority that allows the board to police the conduct or social media conduct of the other members of the board,” Chenoweth said. He said that could rise to the level of having a chilling effect on free speech.

Several people submitted public comments condemning Richardson’s lack of respect for others in the community as demonstrated by recent Facebook posts, and asked for her removal from the board. One noted that her comments do not align with the core values of the school district.

A letter from unity task force members, including Mayor Brian Traugott and Versailles Police Chief Mike Murray acknowledged there’s much work to be done in terms of equity and equality, and condemned “the repeated racially insensitive social media posts” of Richardson. Her comments were divisive and undermined the work of the task force, it stated.

“Ms. Richardson’s most recent comments written on her Facebook page fit a pattern of a complete lack of understanding of what it takes to create a truly equal society,” wrote Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. “As an elected official, she must represent every citizen in her jurisdiction whether they are black, white, brown; whether they voted for her or not.” He said everyone deserves a chance to atone for their mistakes, but that can not happen without remorse.

“I believe that until Ms. Richardson makes a meaningful act towards reconciliation,” he added, “healing cannot begin.”

Letters from Robin Espinoza and Connie Sutherland said Richardson meant no harm with her Facebook posts and they do not affect her job as an advocate for kids.

“If people are offended by my colorful language on my personal Facebook,” said Richardson after listening to Springate read her posts, “I accept that. That’s who I am.”

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