Controversy adds intrigue to School Board elections

Though south barrier island residents don’t vote in a Brevard County School Board race this time around, three seats are up for grabs in Tuesday’s primary, including District 5, where incumbent Andy Ziegler is under investigation for allegedly retaliating against a woman who had previously accused him of sexual harassment.

The controversy surrounding Ziegler has made for a strange election cycle because the accuser is none other than the district’s Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources.

Hoping to unseat Ziegler are three opponents – former teacher and current substitute teacher Katye Campbell, stay-at-home mom Kelly Damerow and real estate investor Dean Paterakis. School Board seats are elected on a staggered basis. Districts 1 and 2 also have elections. District 3 board member Tina Descovich, who represents most beachside areas, is not up for reelection this year.

Ziegler was cleared of the harassment allegation last year, but publicly apologized for making anyone feel “uncomfortable.” His accuser was not identified in the apology, but in January district employee Carol Tolx (Carol Kindt at the time of the alleged incident) sent an email to then-superintendent Desmond Blackburn regarding an exchange she and Ziegler had during a School Board presentation a few days earlier.

Ziegler was critical of a proposed staffing contract presented to the board by Kindt, and questioned her on it during the meeting. “I believe Mr. Ziegler was intentional in his actions as a form of retaliation for a sexual harassment investigation claim made against him by me,” Kindt wrote in her email to Blackburn. “This is very concerning to me as the Chief of HR as I have a department of people working very hard to improve our processes and services for this district and I believe that Mr. Ziegler will continue to thwart their progress because he is angry at me. My employees do not deserve to have their work discredited publicly nor do I deserve to be continually harangued by this man.”

Brevard Public Schools spokesman Matt Reed confirmed an investigation was launched and remains ongoing.
“Private, outside counsel has been hired to look into this matter so that BPS staff does not experience any conflicts,” Reed said. “As BPS staff, we have no information to share and are not commenting on this matter beyond responding to requests for public records.”

The contract in question would have paid Kelly Services $7.5 million to provide substitutes to BPS over a two-year period. Ziegler was not the only board member to question this, although he was the most vocal.

The sexual harassment claim against Ziegler reportedly included inappropriately touching a woman in the small of her back, suggesting they take a car ride together and visiting her home. A private investigating firm found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Ziegler said in a phone interview Friday that those allegations and the more recent charge of retribution are false. “I know they’re absolutely not true,” he said. “I treat everybody with complete respect.”

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