In the 1980s during Monday Night Football, IBM would have commercials that would show a football play and then ask the fans to make the call as to how the referee should decide the play. A few commercials later they would come back and give the correct answer based on the rule book.
The current volleyball scandal – which is still very much undecided in terms of final outcome – lends itself well to a blow by blow analysis. Our view from the start has been that mistakes were made on both side, with the primary blame falling on School Board Member Nancy Peterson and, by extension, her husband Robert Peterson.
February 2013 – Pulling of the Consent Calendar Item
It can be argued that the controversy predated this decision, however, we start here for a number of reasons – primarily because it becomes the first public act in the controversy and the first time Nancy Peterson, who was elected just three months earlier, used her position as school board member publicly.
She requested that Crawford’s VSA (variable service agreement) be pulled from the consent calendar so that her contract could be discussed and voted on separately. Ultimately, Crawford’s VSA would be renewed by a 3-2 vote, with Board Members Gina Daleiden and Nancy Peterson casting the dissenting votes. Gina Daleiden would explain that she did not have sufficient information to decide the issue.
The action triggered a strong letter to the editor complaining that school board members “are using their power to micro-manage the athletic program at Davis High.” It was never clear what Ms. Peterson’s reasoning was for the decision to pull the consent item.
Vanguard’s Call: Nancy Peterson clearly put herself into a fray when she pulled the consent item. She was overruled by the majority on her board. This would be the first of several precipitating events.
July 17, 2013 – Board Overturns Administrative Decision Not To Return Crawford
In June of 2013, a press release was sent out by the district office announcing that Crawford would not be returning as head coach of the girl’s volleyball team that fall. Davis High Athletic Director Dennis Foster reported to the Enterprise that he and Davis Schools Personnel Chief Matt Best made the decision not to submit Crawford’s VSA to the school board for approval. He did not comment on a reason, citing that it was “a confidential personnel matter.”
Two weeks later, the board met in closed session and voted in open session to reverse the earlier administrative decision made by Dennis Foster and Matt Best, and rehire Crawford as the DHS Girls volleyball coach for the upcoming fall season.
Nancy Peterson would be the lone dissenting vote in a 3-1 vote, with Tim Taylor not on the phone line when the vote occurred. She then threw fuel on the fire when she stated, “My vote reflects nothing more than my continued pursuit of ideals centered on children. I cannot in good conscience vote to approve Ms. Crawford as a coach for young adults.”
Vanguard’s Call: Clearly Nancy Peterson was in the minority on this vote. Should she have voted at all? That’s a closer call. However, what is very clear is that the statement she made was inflammatory and unnecessarily escalated a controversy that could have ended on a 3-1 vote.
The Petersons Send Daughter Back to the Team
Notwithstanding the disconnect with Nancy Peterson’s statement that she could not “in good conscience vote to approve Ms. Crawford as a coach for young adults,” she allowed her daughter to be coached by Ms. Crawford.
Vanguard’s Call: Nancy Peterson was attempting to wear two hats – mom and school board member. The moment she decided to vote against returning the coach and make the strongly-worded statement, she should have been making the decision that she needed to be a school board member first. That meant not putting everyone in a tough spot by putting her daughter back on the team. She should have sent her daughter to a club team in Sacramento for her senior year. By trying to be both a school board member and a mom at the same time, she created a huge conflict of interest and, in both cases, put personal needs over the good of the school district.
Coach Julie Crawford Cuts Peterson’s Daughter from the Team
It is not completely clear what happened here and whether Ms. Crawford was justified in cutting Ms. Peterson from the team. However, we have a 72-page report which concluded that, by the preponderance of the evidence, the decision was at least partially influenced by Ms. Crawford’s relationship with Nancy Peterson. Robert Peterson claims that, though we have not seen them, there are emails and threats.
On the other hand, others have suggested that the young Ms. Peterson was a problem on the team and undermined Ms. Crawford’s authority.
Vanguard’s Call: The Petersons put Ms. Crawford into an impossible position, but taking it out on the daughter – if that is what occurred – would be a clear error by Ms. Crawford. The question that the board will have to decide is whether “the Administration’s conclusions are supported by a preponderance of evidence and whether the administrative remedy is appropriate to the conclusions.” Giving credence to what we know of the report at least leans us in the direction that Ms. Crawford should have handled things better here.
Robert Peterson Filed a Complaint
From his perspective, “My issue was a disagreement between this coach and her friend the previous coach and my wife at whatever level became simple retaliation.”
Vanguard’s Call: The problem is that, even though Mr. Peterson is not on the school board, he is not just a parent. He is the spouse of a school board member, and by filing a complaint he triggered an administrative response that became conflicted and convoluted. This is probably the toughest call, because Mr. Peterson may well have a legitimate complaint, but his wife’s standing complicates matters.
District Launches Independent Investigation – Spends $22,000
The district hired Alexander Sperry, who was the lead investigator into a 99.3 hour investigation that cost the district $22,000 and produced a 72-page report. However, questions quickly arise as to his true independence, as he is a law partner at the Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation, along with the School District’s Attorney, Eva Peek Fichtner.
Eyebrows in the community were quickly raised at the length and the magnitude of the investigation over whether a coach retaliated by cutting a player.
Vanguard’s Call: Despite the comment by Gina Daleiden who stated, “Generally speaking, you might imagine that when an investigation involves a Board Member or a top administrator, it really needs to be done by someone outside the DO [district office] rather than internally. The nature of the complaint might also necessitate an outside person or an attorney/professional investigator.”
We get that. But at the end of the day, the length and cost of this investigation made the district look bad. This fuels back into the perception that at some point the Petersons, as custodians of the district finances, needed to eat one for the team.
Timing of the Non-Renewal
According to published accounts, the district completed their investigation in November. Julie Crawford, despite the results, was led to believe she would be the coach.
Vanguard’s Call: The District made a series of questionable moves here and this is the most baffling, the one that really added fuel to the fire. They waited until the last possible moment to tell the coach and the community of their decision, despite having known it for at least two months.
Leak of Letter from Matt Best to Enterprise
Robert Peterson leaked the letter from Matt Best to the Enterprise. The Enterprise reported that Coach Julie Crawford “retaliated against her leading critic, school board member Nancy Peterson, by cutting Peterson’s daughter… from the girls roster last summer, a school district investigation concluded.”
The Enterprise reported that it “has obtained a letter from Best summarizing attorney Alex Sperry’s investigation and which describes the violation of board policy that may have cost Crawford her coaching job.”
The paper reports, “The investigation was triggered by a Sept. 3 complaint filed by longtime Blue Devil volunteer sports doctor Rob Peterson, Nancy’s husband and Ms. Peterson’s father, after Ms. Peterson was cut from the volleyball team.”
Further, the investigator concluded that “more likely than not, Coach Crawford’s decision to cut (Ms.) Peterson from the varsity volleyball team was influenced, at least in part, by Coach Crawford’s feelings about Nancy Peterson.”
Vanguard’s Call: This one is not a close call at all. Robert Peterson should not have leaked the letter to the press, period. There was no reason to do so other than political reasons, to do damage control.
This is another case where a parent whose wife is not on the school board could possibly act differently than a parent whose wife is on the school board. But because Nancy Peterson is on the board, this is tantamount to a sitting school board member leaking a private personnel document to the press.
The district failed to disclose the letter and declined to comment on it, on the basis that it was a private personnel document. Technically Mr. Peterson had a legal right to do this, but as the spouse of a school board member, he should not have done so; he used terrible judgment.
The leak served no legitimate purpose and Mr. Peterson was ill-advised to leak it.
Robert Peterson Speaks to School Board
For those who have not watched Mr. Peterson’s comments, watch the video below:
Robert Peterson said, “I’ve gotten to a point with this process where the distortions and the lies and the blogs and the newspaper articles that are uninformed are just intolerable at this point. I don’t know how to get my side of the story out per se, because everything is restricted, everything is personnel issues, everything is confidentiality.”
He added, “My issue was a disagreement between this coach and her friend the previous coach and my wife at whatever level became simple retaliation.”
Vanguard’s Call: Like the leak of the letter, this served no legitimate purpose. The item was not on the calendar. The board will hear the appeal of the non-renewal of Ms. Crawford’s VSA.
As the spouse of a school board member, Mr. Peterson does not necessarily have the right and duty to get “his side of the story out.” But worse yet, he precipitated most of the problems by sending his daughter into a tough situation following Nancy Peterson’s pointed comments, then filing the complaint and then leaking it.
Moreover, he neither needed to leak the document or get his side of the story out. The board’s appeal with his wife finally recused could have ended the situation.
Instead, Mr. Peterson threw a can of gasoline on a volatile situation. He did himself no favors on Thursday night with the content or tone of his comments. Neither did Nancy Peterson, when she told people in a video that they need to calm down. Ironically, both Petersons have played a huge role in doing the exact opposite.
Mr. Peterson did not accomplish what he thought he would by speaking. He would have been best advised from the start to keep quiet and let the process work.
No one comes out of this without both mud and skid marks.
However, as the play-by-play reads, we have to assign primary responsibility to the Petersons. Nancy Peterson started this controversy. No one knows what happened before February 2013, but her decision first to pull the consent item and, more importantly, vote on a matter of such personal import in July and then fire off an ill-advised inflammatory statement started the controversy.
Second, once she made the decision, she put the entire district in a horrendous position by then sending her daughter into the coach’s care, whom she had publicly maligned.
Those two key decisions caused this entire chain of events. That part is almost completely on Nancy Peterson.
Julie Crawford would have been best advised to have left Ms. Peterson on the team. We are not in the position to know whether the young Ms. Peterson was a problem. However, if Mr. Peterson is correct, the coach did not handle the situation properly. Yes, she was put into a terrible position by the actions of Nancy Peterson, but her handling of the matter probably left a lot to be desired.
The school board does not come out of this looking good. Nancy Peterson clearly had to recuse herself last week from this matter, but the fact that she did not do so earlier was a huge cause of the current situation. Clearly, the board needs strong language placed into its conflict policy to preclude this from happening again.
The district’s administration bears a far larger share of the blame. They mishandled this from the start, and it appears to have cost both a high school principal and athletic director their jobs.
But the decision to pull the VSA only to have the board overrule them was a secondary trigger. We are left to wonder who is minding the store and where the buck stops.
We have an athletic director who may be bullied by board members or just plain ineffectual. We have a Superintendent in Winfred Roberson who, from all appearances, is a good and honorable man but lacks key experience. And we have a HR Director who also appears to be a good and honorable man, but who also lacks key experience.
The decision to pull the VSA in June, the length and expense of the investigation, the delay between the November investigation and the February decision are all on administration’s shoulders.
Finally we have Robert Peterson – a father but also the husband of a school board member. It is a new world in a lot of ways, but, like his wife, Robert Peterson tried to be multiple roles at once and failed.
The decision to send his daughter back to the coach is a bad one and one that one could have predicted would not end well. Some have suggested that this would be the daughter’s decision, but the moment Nancy Peterson criticized the coach publicly and officially, the decision was taken out of the daughter’s hands.
The decision to file a complaint is a closer call. Given what had already transpired, it would have been better to let the situation die down. The decision to leak the letter to the press and speak out on Thursday were not close calls.
In all, there is a sharing of responsibility among the adults in this matter. However, in the end, the record shows that the Petersons both precipitated and at key moments inflamed the situation and therefore, in our view, they bear primary responsibility for this controversy.
Last week we asked that Nancy Peterson step down – today, we reiterate that call.
—David M. Greenwald reporting