Facing criticism as NAACP chair and Coatesville board member

The Rev. Lauraine Acey (left), pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Coatesville, and Jimmy Jackson, a Coatesville activist, talk outside Coatesville City Hall, where the local NAACP chapter was meeting.
The Rev. Lauraine Acey (left), pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Coatesville, and Jimmy Jackson, a Coatesville activist, talk outside Coatesville City Hall, where the local NAACP chapter was meeting.
Posted: October 02, 2013

COATESVILLE With the highly offensive text messages in hand, the two employees of the Coatesville Area school board reached out to the one person they thought could be trusted to do the right thing: Tonya Thames Taylor.

The choice made sense. Taylor was both president of the local chapter of the NAACP and a member of the school board. She would become a key figure in the drama that led to the resignations of Superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Donato.

Taylor, however, has not escaped unscathed. During a contentious meeting of the school board last week that culminated in the board's accepting Como's and Donato's resignations, Taylor faced criticism from some in the audience who accused her of not moving quickly enough once she had the texts in hand Aug. 18.

The board has said it acted as swiftly as possible, given the circumstances. Taylor said the fact that the two employees entrusted the sensitive information to her shows how well regarded she is in the community, as an activist and member of the school board.

"It was a reflection that, in the face of this enormous betrayal, I was the one person they could reach out to and talk to," Taylor, a history professor at West Chester University, said in an interview.

Still, some in Coatesville argue that Taylor cannot be both a civil rights activist and a member of a board that some say might have been inclined to cover up the texting scandal. "That's nonsense," Taylor said. "Then you can never work in America if you work in civil rights." She noted that she was already a member of the school board when the local NAACP chapter elected her president.

Sylvia Washington, a member of the local NAACP, disagreed with Taylor's detractors and said she acted appropriately.

"It would have been a conflict if she had gone to the NAACP. From a legal point of view, she did the right thing," Washington said. "To use this as a platform to target her while the real issues aren't being addressed is a disservice to the community."

As to criticism that there was a delay in acting on the text messages, Taylor said the board first had to confirm that they were authentic and were exchanged between Como and Donato. Not doing so could have exposed the board to legal action.

Criticism of Taylor has also come from some members of the local chapter of the NAACP, whose executive board met last night at Taylor's request. Hank Hamilton, a vice president of the local chapter, said some members questioned Taylor's leadership and her decision to hold the meeting, given her role on the school board.

"I didn't want to jeopardize the local chapter's authenticity and reputation," Hamilton said. "The public has their eye on us. . . . The right thing is not to have a conflict of interest."

Elwood Dixon, an executive board member of the NAACP's local branch, said Taylor should have told the local chapter about the text messages before members heard about them in the news media. In his view, Taylor put the good of the school board before the good of the NAACP and the community.

"I, myself, would like to see her go," he said. "I really don't think we have any leadership. And it's because of the conflict of interest."

Taylor is vehement in her defense. "I know that my actions through this entire process show I operated with integrity and fidelity in a way that was best for the district," she said.

The local chapter last night voted to accept a role in an inquiry by the NAACP's Pennsylvania chapter. It will set up any public meetings and collect any complaints filed against the school district.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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