By Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues
Beaumont-When Ron Reynolds came to Beaumont Independent School District, he thought it would be a welcome change from television news.
However, he quickly learned that he could not run far from the spotlight, because the BISD was under scrutiny for a number of things relating to district finances and education.
As public information officer, Reynolds was thrust into a whirlwind of controversy that sent him on an unpleasant roller coaster ride of ups and downs and ended up with major changes in the district.
Reynolds, who contends he is not a whistleblower, just wants people to understand that he got caught in the middle while trying to fulfill his main job duties and responsibilities as PIO.
In 2012, the district hired the veteran television and radio journalist and appointed him to the position of communication specialist in the Department of Communications at the Beaumont Independent School District.
Reynolds has more than a decade of experience in broadcast news. Most recently, he was a nightly news reporter for the local CBS affiliate of KFDM-TV, Channel 6. During his tenure with Channel 6, Reynolds covered complex topics, including many that were relevant to public.
A native of Chicago, Reynolds got his break in broadcast news as a producer with the famed attorney Johnny Cochran at Court-TV. Later, he became a producer and writer for MSNBC and WPIX-TV in New York. For the last eight years, he has called Texas home and worked at a reporter for News24 Houston, as an assistant news director at KPFT 90.1 and contributing writer for Houston Defender.
Reynolds is certified by the Texas Attorney General’s Office in the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in television/broadcast journalism from Columbia College in Chicago.
Lauded at First by BISD
His hiring brought praise from many BISD officials who stated their approval of having Reynolds represent the school district and to serve the citizens of Beaumont. He replaced Craig Eichhorn who left Beaumont for a position in the Houston area to be closer to his family.
At the time, he even got raving reviews from Dr. Timothy Chargois, then incoming BISD superintendent of schools. He said.“Ron is passionate about the mission of BISD and public education in general. He is committed to the well-being of children and has hit the ground running as our new communications specialist.”
However, Reynold’s whole nightmare began when he started doing his job with the utmost professionalism.
It was not long before the dark clouds of controversy hanging over the district starting to open up bring with it storms of numerous inquiries about education failures, finances and board operations.
“There were issues going on and people were asking questions,” he said. “Information requests were made by media organizations and citizens and we had no choice but to answer those requests.”
Reynolds said he was trapped in the middle because the law requires that under freedom of information act, the public cannot be denied access to information it seeks about the district, yet there were those on the former now defunct board who were adamant in not wanting information released to the public.
“Some board members questioned my job and challenged me for providing information that legally belonged to the people,” he said. “I released the information time and again in accordance with the law.”
The Public Information Act, Texas Government Code Chapter 552, gives you the right to access government records; and an officer for public information and the officer’s agent may not ask why you want them. All government information is presumed to be available to the public and must be give promptly to those requesting it.
Governmental bodies shall promptly release requested information that is not confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision, or information for which an exception to disclosure has not been sought.
“I did things by the book and some of the people did not like that,” Reynolds said. “I was not and did not want to find myself in violation of the law.”
Some of those documents he released caused friction with then school board members who sought to replace him because of his strict adherence to the law.
Chargois even went on record after praising Reynolds, and changed his tune, stating that the district was unhappy with Reynolds’ performance in responding to public information requests.
Allegedly, Reynolds was targeted by certain executives at BISD as a threat to their power.
In the eyes of some administrators, Reynolds was clearly to blame for doing his job and following the law and the protocols of his certification training.
His job and performance became and issue and he was targeted for termination – an act Reynolds still believes was out of retaliation because he posed an alleged “threat to the central power of the district.”
He then was wrongfully put on the RIF list because he fell out of favor with superintendent .
However, many of the documents he released proved to be damning to corrupt officials who tried to cover up and hide behind the power of public office and position privileges.
The records were the start of a long paper trail that led the media, public and the FBI and TEA investigators down a path that revealed the financial mismanagement, embezzlement, theft of millions of dollars and the arrests of two employees responsible for taking money out of the district accounts without the school board’s approval or former Superintendent Timothy Chargois being aware of it.
Increased questions about hiring practices, funding imbalances and the district’s operational transparency also helped fuel the controversy. It also showed the district was failing in its duties and responsibilities to children.
TEA eventually came in and under the oversight of a state conservator, took over the district, relieved the old school board, released Chargois and appointed a board of managers and an interim superintendent.
Remains Man of Principle
On the changes at BISD, Reynolds said he does not see himself as a whistleblower. He was a man put in a very peculiar position and because of his training, values and ethics followed the law and did the right thing.
“I am a man of principle,” he said. “At age 12, I had aspirations of being a journalist. I was inspired by watching Chicago’s CBS Anchor Lester Holt and pursued his dream. I can never compromise my values and will always seek to do the right thing.”
Reynolds says he will continue to fight for what right in the district and is still working as a school business volunteer supervisor.