A local school board member is fighting back accusations that he is publicly intolerant of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. The Internet dialogue has heated up enough to become an issue at the William S. Hart Union High School District Board meeting on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.
Joe Messina, a Hart School Board member, was reaching out to his community for help, hoping to bring to light the many rumors he believes are circulating among parents, students, and residents in the Santa Clarita Valley pertaining to his actions and words towards the (LGBTQ) community, along with other subjects. Two local parents have publicly sought to unseat Messina for views he has shared in person and on his local radio show, “The Real Side with Joe Messina.”
In Messina’s email in which he seeks support, he attached emails from residents Deborah Smith, outraged with the actions of Messina, including his comments on his radio show and posts on Facebook and Twitter, and Erin Kotecki Vest, agreeing with Deborah and urging for his recall.
In her initial email to Messina, Smith, with the subject line reading “You are a disgrace!” wrote, “I demand that the Wm. S. Hart School Board publicly reprimands Joe Messina for his ongoing, public homophobic remarks on his radio show. He is entrusted with the responsibility to be a role model for the students and staff of the school district, and his remarks are insensitive and mocking of a very serious issue for many youth in our district! He is a disgrace! A campaign is brewing to oust him from the Board!”
She continued to write that the present LGBTQ community was upset with his comments.
“Youth in this valley do not feel safe with him in a leadership position, making decisions about their education, and he certainly does not represent any type of role model I would want in front of my students, teachers or parents,” her email stated.
Smith cited Messina’s reaction to the admission of NBA player Jason Collins that he is gay.
“Your mocking of the process of “coming out”, calling out Jason Collins decision to come out publicly as something that does not take courage,” said Smith in an email.
Messina sent an email response in an attempt to clarify his statement about Collins.
“I never did this, I asked the question do we care if he is gay or do we care if he can play … the same question I asked about Tim Tivo (sic), do we care he is a Christian or do we care he can play football,” wrote Messina.
When contacted, Smith commented on her intention to speak at the William S. Hart School Board meeting on Wednesday May 7.
“I am preparing to address the Hart School Board tomorrow night. There will be a number of speakers at the meeting to again demand a response regarding the District’s failure to implement the FAIR Act,” said Smith.
Messina engaged in several emails with Smith, first asking for examples of his homophobic comments and posts, and going on to say that, as a board member, he looks to represent all the students in the community.
“As a School Board trustee, no one group gets preference over another,” said Messina in an email. “ALL kids should be treated equal and as in all things very few groups feel like they are. BUT the board looks into every decision as to what groups will be affected and how, whether it’s choosing a curriculum, approved sports, after school programs, career tech education and more … I put the same effort equally into issues that affect all kids.”
In another e-mail, Smith attached photographs of posts she found on Messina’s Facebook page and found offensive.
“You asked me to provide you with photos from your FB page that I find offensive and indicative of your poor judgment as an elected school board official. I find the attached photos offensive, on many levels. The images, in my opinion, reflect acceptance of corporal punishment, vigilante justice, disrespect for different nationalities that are steeped in stereotypes, and these are only a sample. Based on your position on the Board, I would expect, as a voter in the SC Valley, that you would conduct yourself in a manner that reflects the conduct expected of students and staff within the Wm. S. Hart Union School District.”
Concerning his Facebook page and posts, Messina says that they are his views and he shouldn’t have to censor them.
“My standards or limit would be measured first by the Bible, Second by the constitution and third by the law. What should I censor, my opinion? No elected official gets elected because they don’t have opinions or values of some kind. People voted for me knowing what my opinions were and what I was willing to do for them their kids and our community.”
Messina commented on a photograph Smith sent him that she used as evidence of corporal punishment.
“If I say something about spanking (not beating), I have a portion of the population that will think I advocate child abuse and a portion that will believe that I understand discipline,” Messina wrote in an email. “People have a right (sic) have and speak about their opinions.”
Messina says that all are welcome to visit his pages.
“I haven’t denied anyone access to my Facebook, I have nothing to hide,” he sent in an email. “Check it out on your own. Although, frankly, I have seen many more exciting FB pages than my personal page. If you mean my radio page, I expect ANYONE who is interested in conversation and a flow of ideas to read it.”
According to Vest, Messina publicly read an email on his radio show, and was “mocking a parent in the district and continuing to spew his bigoted and offensive comments on air.”
It was this letter that Vest heard on Messina’s radio show that led her to send a letter of her own.
Vest wrote, “I would like to know what the procedure is for parents, or anyone, who writes into the district on any particular issue and how that letter may be used for media. Is this normal procedure? Does the Hart District provide letters to all in the administration and then is it allowed to be used for mass media, like Joe’s show? If so, does the district have a response to Joe using the letter on his show and does the Hart District agree and/or condone his remarks?”
Vest wrote a comment to Messina about the letter on the air, in which she questioned the fate of her own letter and Messina’s position as a board member.
“@deb’s letter is awesome,” she wrote, “… I want to know the Hart rules for recall.”
Messina, on the issue of reading the letter on the air, said he did not read it verbatim and was talking about content.
“I didn’t mention her name, I didn’t mention the District’s name. I was just talking about content and allegations made against me and people like me. I would have to listen to it again, but it wasn’t verbatim,” he said.
In response to the whole issue, Hart District Board Member Gloria Mercado-Fortine commented on the board’s stance.
“I’m speaking as the board and as a board member,” she said. “Obviously, I’m concerned. I believe that we need to treat everybody with respect. I strongly believe that the board represents everyone, and we assure that everyone is treated with respect and that we respect differences – especially because, as a board member, you are there to protect kids and to be their voice and to ensure that no one is discriminated against and is treated equally. That’s how I feel.”
Mercado-Fortine went on to speak about Messina and his radio show.
“It’s hard to wear two hats, especially when you’re an elected official, because people, from our emails, people feel that all of us on the board may have the same opinion that Mr. Messina has, but that’s not true,” said Mercado-Fortine. “Mr. Messina is acting on his own. He has his radio show, and … people may see it that his views reflect those of the board and they do not. There are people that are angry with the board because they feel that his opinion reflects the opinions of the district and the board and, as one board member, I would say they do not.”
On the website for Messina’s radio show is the following statement.
“Joe takes the issues … especially the controversial issues (politics, prejudice, religion, illegal immigration) … and brings in people from different sides to share their viewpoints. This is definitely not a fluff piece. And, while no one is attacked, the questions are hard-hitting. But the conversation is always respectful and you’re sure to learn something new, even if you don’t agree,” said the post.
“But, I will continue to do the things the voters put me in to do. I have accomplished much good for our children in the valley and for many kids in this community. I won’t be deterred by hateful, intolerant people who only care about one group of children or people in our community,” Messina wrote. “As many families as you state are outraged, there are many more that are very happy with my actions on the board and with the district. I work for and accept all children my actions prove it and I will stand on my record any time.”
Messina gave a final comment concerning the entire issue.
“It’s a sad, sad day when open, honest conversation by people on different sides of the issue become perceived as hate speech … just belonging to a different political party apparently makes us from different ends of the universe and unable to coexist. That’s just wrong.”
If Messina was to be called for a recall vote, his odds of staying in office are slim, when looking at past results. In 2012, several public officials in California were put to a vote and only two mayors, won the election and kept their position.