VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A vacant school board seat will remain that way for nearly another week after the man appointed to fill it backed out following the release of Facebook posts on his profile that some describe as racist and sexist.
In an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Virginia Beach School Board voted to accept former Virginia Beach firefighter Mike Mullins’ decision to decline appointment to the Rose Hall district seat, a day after they voted unanimously to appoint him.
“We’ve learned a major lesson,” said Beverly Anderson, Chair of the School Board. She, along with other members, maintains nothing was known about the content until after they voted.
The appointment process became neccessary after a judge ruled former board member Joel McDonald vacated his seat when he moved out of the district.
Mullins was one of three finalists narrowed down by board members in a closed door meeting on Tuesday, May 14. The others were Jessica Owens and Seko Varner.
The posts on Mullins’ profile, one which showed a picture of a woman cupping another woman’s breasts with the caption “grabbing a pair of boobs decreases stress up to 70% – Retweet for awareness,” were taken down Tuesday night. District officials called the 2015 posts “disrespectful and offensive” and said they “do not align with our values as a school system.”
The district’s announcement that Mullins had withdrawn his name came after a handful of elected officials called on the school board to reconsider the appointment.
“This morning we heard from Mr. Mullins that he wanted to withdraw his name after some scrutiny around social media posts,” said Natalie Allen, Chief Media and Communications Officer for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Allen says the school division doesn’t condone the messages that were brought to light.
“We embrace differences, this school division is very much about inclusion and educating all children and the examples set by our board members and administrators are very important and we want to make sure they uphold the morals and values the school district holds dear,” Allen said.
While Mullin didn’t respond to requests for comment. 10 On Your Side did obtain a copy of the email he sent to the school board in which he said, “the unexpected has happened and I guess I should have expected it.”
“They are my posts and my responsibility and are for the most part out of context,” Mullins wrote. “My friends know my opinion and my support for law enforcement, the flag, and community service is strong, just as my support for schools and teachers as well as the job they do. I am primarily a conservative and make no apology for it…they bypassed all of the good things I have done and posted to find lightning rods.”
Former Virginia Beach council member and House of Delegates candidate Shannon Kane said in a Facebook post Wednesday morning she received “a number of emails and phone calls” about Mullins’ appointment as well as some of the posts.
Kane said the posts “are not representative of the level of professionalism the Virginia Beach community expects of public officials.”
The school district conceeded social media posts weren’t checked before he was appointed.
“This was more a traditional vetting process, so if you think about it, there was an interview, there was an application, you had the person’s resume, you had references, and folks at the public hearing tell us all about the folks they want to represent them and send them emails and those things,” Allen said.
She says vetting people through social media is a process that will most likely change moving forward.
Current council member Michael Berlucchi post a similar message on his Facebook page, saying, “I am confident the School Board was not aware of the posts when they made their decision.”
However unlike Berlucchi’s recent appointment, the interviews for potential school board candidates didn’t occur in open chambers.
At an emergency meeting of the school board Wednesday afternoon, the issue was subject of debate.
“We are losing public confidence and it does not behoove the school board to do more of this behind the scenes,” said Laura Hughes, an at-large member.
She, along with at-large member Victoria Manning and Bayside representative Carolyn Weems, tried to get the board to discuss their future options out in the open meeting.
However the rest of the members disagreed, saying they wanted to stay consistant to the process they agreed to initially, which would handle the appointment as a personnel matter.
“That’s what we decided as a board, we could have gone either way and we decided as a board that wanted to be able to ask them questions privately,” Anderson said. “We are trying to make it right and we are, that’s why we are postponing this vote to make sure that we have absolute clarity in who were voting for.”
The school board voted to make another appointment on May 28.
They will choose from either Jessica Owens — who is currently employed by the Virginia Department of Social Services as a curriculum writer — or Seko Varner — the owner and operator of Positive Vibes Inc., — who also served as a volunteer at Green Run High School since 2014.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article it stated that the Rose Hall seat was orignially vacated when a judge ruled Joel McDonald “no longer live in the area.” This is incorrect, rather McDonald was removed for leaving his district.