The Hart district governing board on Wednesday is scheduled to consider whether to take up a complaint brought against board member Joe Messina over disparaging comments he’s made on his radio show about gay and transgender individuals, according to documents obtained by Sclarita.
Erin Kotecki Vest in October submitted a written complaint to the William S. Hart Union High School District after listening to episodes of Messina’s radio show, The Real Side. As Sclarita has previously reported, Messina has routinely made offensive remarks on his show about the LGBTQ community.
While she said she finds the remarks on gay and transgender individuals generally offensive, Vest, 41, told Sclarita Tuesday that Messina’s remarks became personal after her 10-year-old daughter, Hala, came out to her last year. Vest said she has allowed Hala, currently a 5th grader at Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School, to continue listening to Messina’s show in order to prepare her for people who are bigoted toward the LGBTQ community. SCVI’s charter is authorized by the Hart district.
Sclarita asked Vest permission before putting specific identifying information about her daughter in this story. Vest said her daughter has already come out to her classmates and is “in a very supportive home.”
“I am disgusted,” Vest said. “I can’t believe someone on the school board is allowed to say things like this. It’s incredibly offensive.”
Vest claims Messina’s comments and stories he’s written mocking the LGBTQ community violate administrative rules prohibiting district officials from engaging in unlawful discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying. Messina was elected in 2009 to the Hart governing board which oversees district policy.
“The bylaws state board members must represent every student fairly,” Vest said. “It’s a direct conflict of his job. He doesn’t only get to represent straight Christian students. He has to represent all students.”
Reached for comment Tuesday, Messina did not respond specifically to Vest’s complaint. In an email, Messina said, “Why don’t you come on my show to discuss, we can actually have a 2 way [sic] conversation. I have talked about this locally, over and over again. I’m really not sure anyone wants real answers…just me gone.”
Though the matter is not fully adjudicated, it appears unlikely Messina will be formally censured under district rules. In a letter the district sent Vest last month, Hart Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Michael Vierra said that the district lacks the authority to take action against Messina because he made the statements in his capacity as a private citizen. Vierra wrote:
The District acknowledges that Mr. Messina made comments, in his capacity as a private citizen, regarding gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. The District finds you were offended by these comments. However, after carefully considering your complaint, the District has determined that, while it does not dispute your concerns or condone Mr. Messina’s conduct, the District cannot regulate or restrain Mr. Messina’s speech, which was made in his private and professional capacity. The District understands and appreciates your concerns about Mr. Messina’s comments. However, your allegations are more properly addressed in another forum. The District’s complaint procedures do not envision and are not designed to address complaints raised against Board members.
Before reaching its initial decision, Vierra said in a letter that the district interviewed Messina, reviewed his webpage, opinion articles and listened to his show from October 19th, a show Slcarita wrote about. On that broadcast Messina brought on Tami Jackson, senior editor at an anti-gay website called BarbWire.com. The website was founded by Matt Barber, a member of The Liberty Council, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an anti-gay hate group.
During the show, Messina mocks Caitlyn Jenner, “Coming Out Month” and days that are set aside to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues. Although Vierra indicated that the district is concerned by Messina’s statements, Hart can’t censure him under its bylaws (Emphasis mine):
“The District acknowledges that Mr. Messina made comments, in his capacity as a private citizen, regarding gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. The District finds you were offended by these comments. However, after carefully considering your complaint, the District has determined that, while it does not dispute your concerns or condone Mr. Messina’s conduct, the District cannot regulate or restrain Mr. Messina’s speech, which was made in his private and professional capacity.”
Vest appealed the decision and Hart board members are scheduled to consider that appeal during Wednesday’s hearing, according to correspondence with the district that Vest provided to Sclarita and posted on her Facebook page. The public agenda for the meeting says the board will “Consider Whether to Hear Appeal of Uniform Complaint Pursuant to Administrative Regulation 1312.3”, but provides no further information.
If the board decides not to hear the complaint, the district’s existing decision will be considered final; if members do decide to hear the complaint, Messina will be formerly notified, according to complaint procedures outlined on the Hart School District website. In an email to Vest that she forwarded to Sclarita, Vierra said members of the board will meet in closed session with legal counsuel to discuss the complaint. The board will vote on whether to hear the complaint in open session, he said.
When asked a question about what would happen next if the board does take up Vest’s complaint, Hart spokesman Dave Caldwell directed Sclarita to Vierra for an answer. Vierra could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday. This post will be updated when Slcarita receives a response.
Vest, meanwhile, said she intends to speak at the hearing, though she indicated that she is not optimistic that board members will take up her complaint.
“I don’t have any faith that the board will do what I’m asking,” Vest said. “I hope they surprise me.”