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Griffin makes unusual impression on opponent

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Milton "June Bug" Griffin doesn't often talk at Dougherty County Board of Education meetings.

A School Board member since being elected in 2000, Griffin was uncharacteristically chatty at Monday's board meeting.

During the board briefing, he asked a Herald reporter, "When's my endorsement story coming out? You guys are going to endorse me?"

After the meeting, Griffin's opponent for his District 2 seat in Tuesday's Democratic Primary, Sherrell Byrd, introduced herself to him while he sat in his chair at the elevated platform for board members.

"I just went up to him and introduced myself to him and wished him well," Byrd said Tuesday to The Herald. "This was the first time meeting him formally, since he never comes around to the forums or anything."

As she extended her hand, she said Griffin told her, "You're pretty, but you can't have my job. You can't have my job."

"Well, we'll see and we'll let the voters decide," Byrd responded.

"It was very bizarre to say the least," Byrd said. "He told me I couldn't have his job and I wished him well. I had a couple people come up to me and say how unprofessional that was, but I just thought it was kind of funny. It was an interesting first impression."

Griffin's uncharacteristic chattiness continued soon after when he agreed to talk to The Herald, ending his months long "no comment" response to the newspaper.

"Hey, somebody get a picture of this, I'm talking to Ethan (Fowler)."

During the board briefing, Griffin told board members that he had conducted five campaign fish fries, but said that wasn't the case later when he spoke to The Herald.

"I haven't done anything," said Griffin, 61, a 1968 Monroe High School graduate. "I feel like I've been campaigning my whole life; the person that I am. The people in my district, I think they've overlooked the fish fry and that (I'm) going to attend their concerns."

Byrd, 32, believes she better connects with today's generation of students than the retired Griffin.

"I think I represent this generation of students going through the Dougherty County School System better than my opponent," said Byrd, a 1996 Westover Comprehensive High graduate. "This school system has unique needs that generations before us did not experience while they were in school.

"The issues that they face today to bullying, to drugs and gangs, to obesity, these are things that my generation didn't deal with and certainly older generations didn't deal with. This is a technology driven generation and they were born into the technology, so to speak, and we need someone on the school board who can speak to those needs."

Griffin said his name recognition is a key advantage for him.

"The people know me and know what I stand for," said Griffin, the former owner of June Bug's Grocery. "If I don't know the answer, I call them back the next day. I never make any promises. We have six other board members and you never know what they're going to do. The main thing, I don't lie to them. I'm not going to try to sweeten them up or anything. I'm going to tell them what the policy says."

Byrd said that she better represents school children's needs because she has two young children enrolled in the school system.

"We only have one other person (Velvet Riggins) on the board that actually has children in the system," said Byrd, whose mother taught for 15 years in the Dougherty School System. "It's critical if we're going to meet the needs of the parents and students that we have someone who is actually in touch with those needs and I feel that I am because I deal with those issues everyday as a parent."

Griffin defended his decision to vote against terminating DCSS Police Officer Keith Frazier, which school system Chief of Police Troy Conley recommended April 21. Conley contended that Frazier failed to notify him of serious incidents/intelligence and was derelic in his duties as a law enforcement officer.

"If he was accused of drugs in our school system with kids, I would've recommended suspension and that's for any employee," Griffin said, adding he's against terminations because "everyone needs a job."

Griffin also defended the school system's decision to hire new Superintendent Joshua Murfree, who had no K-12 experience and lacked Georgia Professional Standards Commission certification.

"The superintendent selection has been a position I'd never want to be in, but all the while I felt we made the right decision," he said.

It was because of all the controversy that followed Murfree's selection that Griffin said he decided not to talk to media outlets who were seeking comments from him to explain why he, James Bush, Anita Williams-Brown and Riggins had voted for Murfree.

"I wanted the superintendent controversy to die down before talking to you," Griffin said. "Anytime you need me, I'm good and ready."

Byrd, who works for Albany State University as its first- and second-year experience coordinator, said board members should always communicate with the media.

"We can't communicate with the community without the media," she said. "That's something that I want to make sure is that we talk to the media, so that they address the concerns of the voters of Dougherty County."

Byrd said in an Editorial Board meeting with The Herald she has a favorable impression of Murfree, who she's worked with once at ASU, as being someone who is innovative and receptive to "outside the box" ideas. "If he's willing to bring that to the school system, it'll be good for us," she said.

She was, however, critical of the School Board for the way in which it shortcircuited the superintendent selection process. The School Board's action created a rift in the community and led to an Open Records Act lawsuit by local media companies, including The Albany Herald.

The action by the board was a "great irresponsibility" that made the county residents feel instability, she said.

Griffin said in a recent interview with The Herald Editorial Board that the only thing he would do differently would be to make sure the School Board's attorney was present during the selection process. "I would do it the same way," he said. "I wouldn't change a thing."