“There are three things you can’t hide from: the sun, the moon and the truth. Eventually it will come out.”
NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County School District employee Arden Farley arrived Tuesday with a story to appeal his unpaid suspension.
But Farley left frustrated and still on unpaid leave, having been prevented from presenting School Board members a full account of why he believes he’s being punished for the actions, and lack thereof, of his superiors — Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith.
The vote to keep him on unpaid leave was 4-1, with board member Dewey Destin opposed.
Before walking out of the School District meeting room, though, Farley vowed to have his say.
“There are three things you can’t hide from: the sun, the moon and the truth,” he told board members. “Eventually it will come out.”
Rationale remains unheard
Some anticipated Tuesday morning’s meeting would provide, under oath, a look at the School District’s rationale for inaction concerning Farley's 2016 investigation of a Kenwood Elementary School pre-K special education teacher. The report confirmed findings later determined to be child abuse.
Instead, the attorneys in the room — Franklin Harrison, hired by the district to represent Jackson, and Jeff McInnis, who represented the School Board — made sure testimony remained solely focused on the topic of whether Farley should remain suspended without pay or receive a paycheck while suspended and awaiting trial on four felony charges of failure to report suspected child abuse.
Farley was arrested Sept. 13 after his investigative report for the district revealed evidence that Marlynn Stillions had improper interactions/procedures involving a non-verbal autistic child in her care. Stillions also was arrested on four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm, as was former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan, who faces three felony failure to report charges.
The report Farley filed confirming code of ethics violations against Stillions landed on Smith’s desk in final form June 17, 2016. Smith issued an order more than a month later, on Aug. 1, to dismissing Farley’s findings and clearing Stillions of any obligation to submit to recommended disciplinary action.
The report wasn’t heard from again for a year, until Eddie Perillo, the father of the alleged victim in the Stillions case, obtained a copy through a public records request and took it to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in May and the Northwest Florida Daily News in August. Charges were filed in September, and the State Attorney’s Office continues to investigate that matter and others that have since arisen within the School District.
Jackson has given contradictory statements regarding what she knew and when involving the Stillions case.
'American values' dismissed
Farley has maintained since his arrest that the Stillions investigation was covered up as part of a deal with the local teacher’s union to protect Stillions, an important union representative, and Jackson, who was standing for re-election on Aug. 30, 2016.
Neither the district nor the teachers’ union have fully aired their sides of the story.
Farley, who is scheduled for a jury trial on the criminal charges in January, had no legal representation present Tuesday, but had obviously spent a lot of time preparing for the hearing.
He grew visibly agitated as each effort to present his case against Jackson and Smith was procedurally dismissed.
“The feedback I’m getting is that I don’t want to hear what Mr. Farley has to say,” Farley told the board. “To shoot down a person and not allow a person to speak doesn’t remind me of our American values.”
Farley also accused McInnis of applying pressure on his criminal attorney, David Oberliesen, to talk Farley out of appearing at Tuesday's hearing. It was an accusation McInnis strongly denied.
'They got the vote right'
Board member Dewey Destin sided with Farley. He opined several times that not only should he be allowed to speak and present evidence, but also that he should be reinstated to a position of being on suspension with pay.
Destin said it seemed unfair that an employee should be left to face the criminal justice system without having a paycheck to cover the costs of legal representation.
“To send someone into that situation without adequate funds to defend themselves, you’re sending them in to lose,” he said.
However, board member Rodney Walker argued that in the many years he’s been on the board, the policy has remained the same regarding district employees charged with felonies.
Employees have traditionally been suspended without pay until such time as their felony case is adjudicated. If the accused is found innocent, that person is placed back on duty and reimbursed for back wages.
Destin’s motion to hear the evidence Farley had brought to present the board died for lack of a second.
“By not being able to submit evidence and to speak today, he’s not allowed to present his case,” Destin said after his motion died.
Harrison, Jackson's attorney, said more than once that he anticipated Farley eventually would be given the opportunity to make a case for his innocence. The School Board appeals hearing just wasn’t the proper venue, he said.
“I think the School Board did the right thing. They got the vote right,” he said. “If Mr. Farley is found not guilty he will get back pay, and he certainly should.”