Lawmakers’s e-mail remark shocks board
December 20, 2001
State Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, said in a widely distributed e-mail that Lee County school board members yelled obscenities at him during a recent meeting.
School board members said his charges are absurd, and others in the crowd of almost 400 people said they heard nothing like that.
“That is absolutely not true,” said school board chairwoman Jane Kuckel. “I think this is defamation. That’s an awful thing to say. I hope he can prove it.”
Kottkamp’s charges were in his “Legislative Update 12-15-01” e-mail.
During the Dec. 12 legislative delegation meeting in Fort Myers, Kottkamp wrote, “While I was speaking, members of our school board were seen hissing, coughing and yelling obscenities!
“They didn’t want parents to hear the truth and they were doing this as I asked to stop the bickering and work together to solve our problems.”
Kottkamp said Wednesday he didn’t hear anything untoward from board members — who sought increased school funding — but he was told such actions took place.
He refused to name anyone who said they heard such a thing, or say whether the alleged offenses came from any particular school board member.
“I had numerous people complain to me that the board members were coughing and saying obscenities. If they want to behave that way, that’s their business,” Kottkamp said.
He said he didn’t know exactly how many people received the e-mail, but recipients were compiled from several lists and people probably shared it with others.
Kottkamp refused to discuss details, saying he doesn’t want to focus on the e-mail. “We need to stop bickering and find ways to work together,” he said.
School board members and others, however, said they found the e-mail astonishing.
“He must not have been at the same meeting I was at,” said Superintendent John Sanders. He was with board members in the back of the room when Kottkamp told the audience that the education budget is not so bad.
“There were people in the room who reacted, saying “oh no,” or “get off it” under their breath, but no one yelled and no one said obscenities, and certainly no one from the board did that. There’s absolutely no truth to it. Why would he say something like that?” Sanders said.
School board members and some legislators — primarily Kottkamp and Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers — have been at odds for months over school funding issues.
Legislators say the district got more money than in the past, while school board members say that inflation, soaring student growth and legislative orders to spend money for things outside the classroom mean the per-student amount has dropped.
In the special session earlier this month, legislators made further cuts to the state and Lee County’s education budget.
Kottkamp defended the legislators’ actions during last week’s meeting.
But the standing-room only crowd gave Sen Burt Saunders, R-Naples, a standing ovation when he said the budget picture is not as rosy as Kottkamp painted.
Others in the audience, including Lee County commissioners John Albion and Bob Janes, Edison Community College’s district vice president Jim Slusher, Deb Lemke of the Lee County Port Authority, and other school board members, said they heard no yelling and no obscenities from anyone.
“I would find it hard to believe that any of our school board members did anything like that,” Albion said.
The meeting was chaired by state Rep. Carole Green, R-south Lee County, who ran a tight ship with a large crowd, Slusher said.
“I would expect that if anything like that had happened, Carole Green would have said something and restored order,” he said.
Terri Wampler said — as did others — that fellow board member Lisa Pockrus had a respiratory infection and may have coughed.
Nobody yelled or hissed, she said.
“None of us would ever utter an obscenity in public, so I’m not sure what he’s talking about,” she said.
Although she usually gets Kottkamp’s e-mails and updates, Wampler said she didn’t get this one.
“I did cough but I tried to stifle it.” Pockrus said Wednesday. “If my coughing offended anyone, I apologize. The only other thing I heard was a little buzz when Jeff spoke and a lot of applause for Burt Saunders.”
School board member Katherine Boren said she found the e-mail especially amazing because Kottkamp sent her a thank you note for speaking at the hearing.
The note makes no mention of any behavior issues or problems.
“I agree we need to stop bickering, and I look forward to more conversation with Jeff Kottkamp,” Boren said. “It’s unfortunate an e-mail like this went out.”
By BETTY PARKER, Copyright © 2001, The News-Press