Superintendent uses ethnic slur

Published 9:57 am Sunday, October 3, 2010

Selma City Schools interim Superintendent Don Jefferson said he is sorry if he offended anyone by using the ethnic slur “jew them down” during a public school board meeting last Wednesday.

Jefferson called the statement, “A Freudian slip.”

On Friday, he said, “I said it. I don’t deny saying it. It probably wasn’t the correct thing to say. It wasn’t the politically correct thing to say, for certain. It was in the heat of the moment. It was the heat of the moment and a Freudian slip. I said it. It is what it is and if I offended anyone, I am sorry.”

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The “heated moment” to which Jefferson referred came Wednesday during a called school board meeting to discuss salary negotiations on the hiring of the system’s new chief financial officer Grindal Harris.

Harris did not attend the meeting.

The board was split on whether to start Harris at $75,000 per year, which she had wanted, or to ask her to begin the first year at $70,000 and be raised in increments over the life of the three-year contract.

Jefferson weighed in on the conversation.

“That is where you guys are totally wrong; you are totally wrong. When you are talking about getting a temp to come in here and run a school system …,” Jefferson said.

“We’ve got a temp running it now, sir,” school board member Holland Powell responded, adding, “nothing personal, you’re a temp. You’re in here for a short period of time.”

Jefferson came back, saying, “I am going to do the job. I am going to do the job according to the way it’s supposed to be done, regardless of whether you pay me one dime or you pay me $10,000; it doesn’t, or $100,000 — it doesn’t make a difference. Money. See, this is the problem; you’re so caught up on money that you fail to understand when you have an opportunity to hire a person according to what the market will bear and just because a person asks for a fair price, you want to Jew them down to something.”

Giving Jefferson and opportunity to retract his comment, Powell said, “Ooh, I don’t think I’d use that term.”

“Well, whatever. I used it, so,” Jefferson responded.

In an attempt to move away from the heated conversation, school board president Henry Hicks then said, “we have a motion on the floor and I would like to … I … I would …”

A digital recording of the comment and the back and forth, can be found online at A Times-Journal reporter recorded the comments on a digital recorder as nearly all called, open meetings are.

The anti-Semitic slur is used to depict someone attempting to negotiate or drive down the price or compensation.

It’s unlikely the Selma City School Board will take any formal action regarding Jefferson’s use of a ethnic slur during last week’s open meeting.

“From what I gathered, there will be a conversation,” school board member Frank Chestnut said Thursday, the day after the meeting. “Individual board members will talk when things happen that have offended each other. We usually don’t make it a public thing.”

Chestnut said he was shocked when he heard Jefferson use the phrase.

“I would have to say it was not a good thing to say,” Chestnut said. “We need to conduct ourselves better.”

Chestnut said there have been times when board members have inadvertently offended one another and nothing was said; or a board member was called aside and asked to mind his or her temper.

“I’m not trying to make an excuse for [Jefferson],” Chestnut said. “But you have to make judgment calls all the time when you work with people.”

Hicks presided over the meeting and cut the conversation short. He said he realizes people do not always think about what they are saying during, what Hicks called “a healthy debate” conversation.

“That used to be a term that people would always use, you know Jews were always trying to get you to lower the price or whatever,” Hicks said. “I don’t know if that’s what it meant to him or what he was saying. I’m not real sure and I would hate to be the one to analyze what he was thinking. I think that question might be favorable to be asked of him, get his reaction to it and let him say what he really meant.”

Hicks said he understood what Jefferson was saying, and he heard Powell make a remark about the statement, but Hicks said he was more focused on the issue at hand — the contract.

“Again, I don’t know what kind of content he was trying to use it in,” Hicks said. “I don’t think he was trying to use it in any negative content toward anybody. I think I know Dr. Jefferson well enough to say that. “

When asked if he would use the term, Hicks said no, it never crossed his mind at that time.

“You could have used the term ‘horse trade.’ Would that be offensive to anybody,” Hicks asked. “Like I said, it’s a negotiating period.”