FORT WALTON BEACH — Candidates vying for seats on the Okaloosa County School Board had the opportunity earlier this month to share their platforms at a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.
The July 12 forum was largely civil as candidates expressed their views and opinions. But when the cameras were off, tensions were high between District 5 candidates Diane Kelley and Bran McAllister, according to witness reports.
During her two-minute closing remarks, Kelley made certain remarks about McAllister that led to a verbal exchange after the forum.
"I am a candidate not endorsed by the current superintendent and not endorsed by the union," Kelley said in her closing remarks.
In a video recording of the forum, McAllister can be seen shaking his head.
Kelley also mentioned that she has "no conflict of interest" because she does not have a spouse working in District 5. McAllister's wife is principal at Plew Elementary. Kelley's husband oversees custodial services and real estate for the school district, according to her campaign website.
McAllister said Thursday that he confronted Kelley after the forum in a "relatively calm" manner to speak to her about those specific statements.
"The way the forum was set up, I didn't have a chance to respond, but I waited until the end and told her she had made statements in error and that she knew they were in error," he said. "This dishonest campaign has got to stop."
McAllister said he was not, in fact, endorsed by Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and that his wife's position was not a conflict of interest. He also said there was no endorsement by a union, but that he did receive an endorsement from the political action committee TIGER (Together in Government Education Reform).
"She (Kelley) sought that endorsement just as vigorously as I did," McAllister. "I think it's disingenuous to make it sound as if it's unfavorable."
Kelley said Thursday that her statements were not false, but did admit that Jackson has not made an official endorsement. She said she made the comment to "allude to" the support Jackson has shown for McAllister and his campaign. She said the July 12 forum was the third time McAllister had "gotten in her face."
"I've never provoked him," she said. "I think it's a highly valuable trait to keep emotions in check and remain calm. I try to stay positive."
The Okaloosa County School Board race is a nonpartisan. The winners will be decided in the Aug. 28 primary. For more voting information, visit govote-okaloosa.com.