LACONIA — School Board member Dawn Johnson scorned calls for her resignation on Tuesday after her fellow board members as well as members of the public urged her to do so days after she posted a link that contained an anti-Semitic cartoon.
Her refusal to step down came during a tense School Board meeting Tuesday, during which she told the board to take its comments to her attorney, and later on launching into an outburst during which she called others on the board “a disgrace.”
School Board Chairman Heather Lounsbury and other board members acknowledged they had no authority to remove Johnson. But they stripped her of her committee assignments, saying the step was necessary in order to re-establish the board’s credibility with the public.
More than 300 people logged in to watch the three-hour virtual meeting which included remarks by about 20 members of the public who, with one exception, said the social media post which included a derogatory caricature of a Jewish man was unacceptable for someone holding public office, and called on her to resign.
But it was comments from the board members which prompted Johnson to lash out at her colleagues toward the end of the three-hour meeting.
Board member Joe Cornier said comments Johnson made earlier in the evening “in effect slapped the face of the people who were talking tonight. … It’s arrogance at its highest.”
Thereupon Johnson tore into the board.
“You guys are supposed to be my friends,” she said.” You are a disgrace. I am not resigning. The more you push on me the harder I’m going to fight.”
As Johnson continued with her denunciation of the board, her voice grew louder. At one point she hollered, “If you guys cannot have the decency and the friendship to tell me and ask me (what happened) then that is your problem. … obviously you guys think you’re so self-righteous. Guess what?” she went on, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Members of the public called Johnson’s tirade appalling and childish.
“If our kids behaved like that they would not have their toys,” Carlos Cardona told the board.
At the outset of the meeting Lounsbury said that Johnson’s actions had brought discredit on the board and that she needed to resign.
“Recent events with one of our board members were disrespectful and cannot be tolerated at any level,” Lounsbury said. “It’s too easy in today’s social media environment to take false information and give it new life. We should lead by example and promote a positive attitude. There is no room in our society for hate or intolerance.
“Although I do not have the authority to demand (Johnson’s resignation),” Lounsbury continued, “I support the community’s request.”
Other members of the board concurred with Lounsbury’s position.
Cormier said he found Johnson’s apology lukewarm and insincere. Member Laura Dunn said the apology was unpersuasive, prompting her to issue her own apology to the community and students for whatever hurt Johnson’s post had caused. Member Mal Murray said Johnson’s action had created “a mess.” Board member Nick Grenon said the Johnson matter had unleashed an avalanche of emails from irate constituents to board members and school officials.
Hayward said Johnson’s post had damaged not only her standing in the eyes of the public, but the standing of the board as well.
“The public has lost confidence in Dawn and the board’s leadership,” Hayward said. “By extension by losing confidence in her means that they lose confidence in us. We need to restore that belief that we have the best interest of all students and community members and I would ask that board member Johnson resign.”
Hayward proposed that Johnson be removed from the two standing committees she has served on — the Strategic Planning Committee which Johnson chairs, and the Budget and Personnel Committee.
“Her contributions and actions should only be in a forum that is publicly visible and involves all board members at the time,” Hayward said.
Johnson was removed from the two boards on a 6-1 vote.
Johnson reiterated her explanation that the controversial post was the result of an inadvertent error she made while using her smartphone.
“I did not intend for that racist argument to come up,” she said. “I did not know it was a racist item. I was trying to find another article. That picture and that post was all the way at the bottom on my phone. I never saw it until somebody posted it and brought it to my attention.”