By Dave Oedel
Saturday, May 30, 2015, Georgia’s Monroe County Schools Superintendent Anthony Pack and the Monroe Board of Education reached a termination agreement in which neither party formally placed blame nor took responsibility for Pack’s termination. Officially, they parted for “no cause.” Pack has been Monroe’s superintendent for seven years, during which time Pack served ably enough, according to most, in an inherently difficult job.
The primary issue that led to Pack’s termination seems to have involved Pack’s pending divorce from his wife of many years, with whom he had children enrolled in Monroe schools. After Pack’s separation from his wife, and in light of their impending divorce, Pack reportedly visited a same-sex dating website and effectively “came out” — albeit with a little help from some local outers. That “outing” is a story for another day.
Regardless of who outed Pack and why, the whole Pack situation reflects the dawning American understanding that repression of native human sexuality, when writ on the public stage through the uncomfortable, unnatural adoption of conventional roles by natively unconventional citizens, probably isn’t healthy.
I’m not saying that I know the best paths to integrity on such fronts, be they personal, public or legal. But it’s clear enough that privately concealing one’s native sexuality, and publicly taking positions that don’t line up with one’s personal reality, aren’t advisable approaches. I don’t know anything substantive about such things involving Anthony Pack, but, like anyone else, I can make a few educated guesses. Those guesses have me wondering about Pack’s personal choices. But I’m not his judge.
Pack’s situation sounds to me like other ones that I’ve seen here in Middle Georgia, where a number of people who are attracted to people of the same gender have faced awkward, morally challenging decisions in a culture that makes it hard to deal with sexual ambiguities. I can imagine some of the dynamics, and feel for all the parties.
Just ballparking this situation with Anthony Pack, I’m inclined, as a lawyer and on the surface of the situation, to suspect that Pack was no criminal for occasionally using the school system’s cellphone and computer equipment for personal reasons – equipment that was bestowed on him by the public so that he could be linked in with the public 24/7 for the public’s benefit. And Pack was no criminal for simply wanting to express his sexuality after unequivocally separating from his wife.
On the other hand, it’s understandable that Monroe County’s school board should be concerned about its superintendent jumping the fence in a public way in the process of divorcing his wife. Not a good set of messages there in terms of fealty to your promises, partners and public persona. But that’s also generally true for many divorcing public officials. Divorce alone has ceased to be a basis for termination from public office.
I don’t know the inner workings of this situation, but it looks as if Monroe’s board may have missed an opportunity to send a more thoughtful message to Monroe’s children about sexuality and morality. As things are left now, Monroe’s schoolchildren could reasonably take away the message that coming out, even as a prominent adult, is inherently shameful.
Perhaps a better message would have been that a culture that forces shame on people – even on established leaders and good parents — for their honest, native qualities, is not a culture that we want to perpetuate.
Pack probably made mistakes in his process of coming out, though he was “helped” in that botched process by others who wished Pack ill. The school board may now be making another kind of mistake by letting Pack go with a summary dismissal.
Let’s hope that Monroe’s kids learn not from any of them as models, but from their respective mistakes. We might prefer that our kids will accept people as they find them so long as those people act honestly and responsibly, while forgiving those who may have fallen short of the ideals in marriage, parenting or on the job.
Some think that being gay is shameful in and of itself. Monroe is implicitly reinforcing that view by suggesting that, if you’re gay and openly truthful about your sexuality, you’ll be punished with the loss of your job. That shouldn’t be our default public posture in Middle Georgia.