August 13, 2014 - "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters" – Albert Einstein
Over the past several weeks, I've received several phone calls and had many conversations with members of the public (including other public officials) inquiring about whether or not Oxford Schools Superintendent Dr. Bill Skilling has sold his Oxford Village home and is moving to Georgia – a move that could happen as soon as December, according to some sources.
Instead of letting the rumor mill run rampant, being the good reporter that I am, I decided to try to get the facts. I e-mailed Skilling on July 24 about the rumors and told him I wanted some clarification. Unfortunately, I got an autoreply message stating he was out of the office until July 30.
I sent Skilling a text message letting him know I had e-mailed him and needed to talk to him. He responded that he "wasn't leaving Oxford," but moving his daughter down to Georgia for college. I replied, "OK, we'll talk Wednesday."
Well, interestingly enough, Skilling returned to work and never e-mailed back or called to give response on July 30 or 31. So, by Friday Aug. 1, it was time to take what I call "the direct approach." I went to his office. As I entered, he was sitting at his computer typing away.
He looked over at me and said, "What is this about?" When I told him it was about the questions I had e-mailed him, Skilling informed me he wasn't going to answer those questions because he no longer trusts me due of the story I wrote on his house being listed for sale on Craigslist. He's sticking by his original stance – "it's none of the public's business." Skilling's refusal to answer questions finally led to him shutting a door in my face.
Some may be wondering why is the superintendent selling his home and possibly moving out of state is considered newsworthy or important? Well, let me explain.
First, the board just extended Skilling's contract this past April. Instead of expiring in 2016, it will now expire in 2019. According to that contract, Skilling is expected to be the superintendent until 2016 when, at which time, "it is expressly understood that the Board of Education may assign/transfer the superintendent, commencing July 1, 2016 or any time thereafter, to the position of Superintendent Emeritus of International Programs, Global Outreach and Fund Development."
So, according to his contract, he has at least two more years in the superintendent role, then possibly another three years under the new title. However, that doesn't stop the school board from opening up his contract early and amending it, as they have done in the past.
Secondly, Skilling made his moving into this community a big deal when he got the superintendent job back in 2007. He also wanted to make sure everyone knew Oxford was where he planned to retire.
According to a May 23, 2007 Leader article, "My wife (Nancy) and my children are not only excited, they're ecstatic about coming to Oxford," Skilling said. "This is a place where my wife and I would like to finish my career as superintendent, retire, and have our grandchildren someday visit us there."
So, if his moving here was so important, his moving away should be equally important, especially if Oxford tax dollars are going with him.
Third, Skilling is a PUBLIC OFFICIAL, bottom line. When one is a public official, almost everything they do and say is open to scrutiny. And by the way, selling a house, or even buying a house, is not a "private matter." There is such a thing as "public record," and home ownership is a part of local, county and state public records.
In all fairness to Skilling, he did send me a text message stating the following:
"Trevor: To answer a fair question you asked related to my position as superintendent, I am not retiring in December nor have I made plans to retire. When I decide to retire, I will share it publicly well in advance of the retirement date. I really enjoy my work as Superintendent of Oxford Community Schools."
That statement still doesn't answer the question of whether or not he is moving to Georgia. We all know that the superintendent could easily pack his bags, move to Georgia and take his six-figure salary across state lines because nothing in his contract requires him to live here while working for Oxford.
If Skilling moves, how can he give his "full attention" to Oxford, while living in another state? If he were to take the emeritus position early, how happy would you, the public, be sending nearly $164,000 to support him in another state?
I believe certain board members have knowledge of the superintendent's plans and they have an obligation to be forthcoming with that information. For those members who may not know what's going on, they have a duty to press the superintendent in public and demand explanations from him.
If the superintendent has nothing to hide, then he should have no problem explaining to the public why his Oxford home was allegedly sold, why a 7-acre farm has been purchased in the Peach State and why there is talk of him leaving in December. Sources close to Skilling stated all this is true.
All we want are some honest answers, but I guess truth, honesty and transparency are way too much to ask from Oxford's highest paid public official.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.