Law Department gets involved after superintendent wanted incoming BOE member to reschedule orientation session

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Incoming Knox County school board member Amber Rountree said "it took a little bit of teeth pulling and the Law Director's Office to get" her into a crucial board-related orientation session that the school superintendent didn't want her to attend.

But, Superintendent Jim McIntyre says he just wanted her to reschedule as to avoid the "appearance of impropriety."

Rountree, though, isn't buying it. And she's now questioning why McIntyre appears to be turning her maternity-leave status into an issue and whether "there were some other factors in play."

"It did raise some questions for me because I had campaigned pretty strongly that I was somebody that a lot of folks considered to be anti-McIntyre . . . and then when I meet a lot of these obstacles that (the other two) new board members didn't seem to have, I was concerned," she said.

Rountree, a school librarian who is on medical leave and will resign from her job next Monday, added: "I felt like it was vital for me to go to the orientation prior to being sworn in . . . and something about it didn't feel right to me so I got in touch with the law director's office."

Here's what happened:

On Aug. 13, McIntyre sent Rountree an email shortly after she toured Dogwood Elementary School, which is in her South Knoxville district.

The superintendent said he was "starting to become a bit concerned that some people may perceive it as inappropriate" for her to accompany him on a school visit while she is on medical leave.

Rountree contacted the Knox County Law Department and attorneys there told her not to worry about it.

On Aug. 18, the superintendent sent another email, telling her that "given the fact that you are out on maternity leave . . . we will need to re-schedule your School Board Orientation until after Sept. 2" – the day she's set to take the oath of office and attend her first school board meeting.

Rountree, and the other incoming members – Terry Hill and Pattie Lou Bounds – were scheduled to attend the board orientation on Aug. 21.

Rountree again talked to the law department and was told that there wasn't "any legal reason" she couldn't go.

David Buuck, the county's deputy law director, also told Rountree that he was "astounded at the disrespectful response of Jim McIntyre to a member of the BOE which body is his employer." Further, Buuck said McIntyre could not "dictate whether or when" she attended the orientation.

McIntyre on Aug. 19 replied: "I certainly appreciate the opinion of the Deputy Law Director, but I'm not willing to accept the potential risk, nor any potential appearance of impropriety."

EMAILS: Correspondence between Rountree, McIntyre, Buuck

In the end, Rountree attended the orientation at the downtown Andrew Johnson Building, but only after Buuck accompanied her.

"I want to go into my position as prepared as possible and there's a lot of important information shared at that orientation that I would not have had if I had not been there," she said.

WBIR reached out to McIntyre for a comment Wednesday.

He said only: ""The e-mail correspondence with Ms. Rountree was intended to make sure she was aware of our protocols for employees on paid sick leave, and I believe the messages speak for themselves. I look forward to working closely with Ms. Rountree when she resigns as a school librarian and takes her seat on the School Board next week."

During her campaign against 9th District incumbent Pam Trainor this past spring, Rountree was highly critical of McIntyre.

However, she said that during last Thursday's orientation, she "didn't feel any stress or discord between" the two.

"He was perfectly friendly to me and I was the same to him," she said. "I just hope that going forward we can have a positive relationship and make sure we continue that. I'd hate to have an acrimonious start to my board of ed term."

"We are all in it to do what's best for the children and we need to have a harmonious relationship to make that work," she added.

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