Chamber of Commerce President Dori Stone wouldn’t share her organization’s code of conduct, but she did say staffers are expected to “respect all of our members and business community, as well as all of the elected officials in Indian River County.”
That includes, I assume, members of the county’s School Board.
So, it’ll be interesting to see how the Chamber’s board of directors responds to the deplorable behavior of its business retention manager, John Corapi, who last week:
- Disrupted a School Board meeting by knowingly taking an auxiliary seat reserved for board members, refused to vacate the chair when approached by sheriff’s deputies and verbally antagonized the deputies as they physically escorted him to the lobby.
- Angrily demanded – not politely requested or respectfully urged – that School Board members at the meeting obey his command to end the district’s in-school mask mandate and stop enforcing social-distancing measures at public sessions, shouting at them, “Enough is enough!”
- Encouraged local anti-maskers to attempt to intimidate School Board members, writing on the “We The People Indian River” group’s Facebook page, “It’s time to protest outside their homes and let them really hear and see we mean business and want change now!”
The social-media chatter didn’t end there.
When someone in the Facebook group asked which School Board member should be targeted first, Corapi suggested Mara Schiff, writing, “I think Shiffy would be perfect! She is the most obvious to cave, I think. She can’t handle the pressure.”
Corapi’s response prompted another group member to write that both Schiff and Chairman Brian Barefoot “need to go immediately,” along with School Superintendent David Moore.
“It’s bizarre,” Moore said. “He’s trying to bully the board.”
Corapi nearly succeeded: Board member Jackie Rosario called for an unscheduled and unadvertised vote to immediately make mask wearing optional for the remainder of the school year, but the mandate remains in effect as Barefoot, Schiff and Peggy Jones rejected the motion.
The next day, upon learning of the disturbing Facebook posts, Moore’s staff notified board members and the Sheriff’s Office, which should be investigating Corapi’s social-media activity to determine whether the threat is real and if it constitutes cyber-bullying.
In addition, Barefoot said he discussed Corapi’s ugly antics with Sheriff Eric Flowers at a school district event later in the week.
“Flowers knows all about it,” Barefoot said.
Perhaps so, but Corapi didn’t seem to be overly concerned Friday, when he posted on his personal Facebook page video footage of his confrontation with the deputies.
When one of his Facebook friends wrote, “I thought you were going to get arrested,” Corapi answered, “Nope. I had people in the background that had my back if it got to that point.”
He didn’t identify those people, but after being removed from the meeting, Corapi was heard saying outside the building that he was “good friends” with Flowers and had done a radio show with him.
As of Monday, Flowers had not responded to my email asking about his agency’s investigation of Corapi’s conduct.
Barefoot, meanwhile, already had contacted Indian River Shores Police Chief Rich Rosell, who said last weekend he had alerted the private security force in the chairman’s John’s Island community and increased his agency’s patrols there.
“If this guy knows people at John’s Island, he might be able to get through the gate, but it would be a terrible idea if he did,” Rosell said. “We’re onto him.”
That means Corapi has put himself on the radar of at least one local law enforcement agency – a distinction that tarnishes the Chamber’s image and should embarrass its directors.
For her part, Stone said the Chamber would investigate Corapi’s conduct and submit its findings to the organization’s board of directors, which will determine his fate in accordance with its employment policies and code of conduct.
“I’m tempted to write a letter to the Chamber,” Barefoot said, adding that he’s not worried about his safety but has concerns for other board members because, “I think this guy is crazy enough to do something stupid.”
Any thorough investigation should include a full review of the footage of Corapi’s deportment at the School Board meeting – from his rude disruption of the proceedings to his defiant interaction with deputies, to his pseudo-tough rant from the podium.
“They were trying to create a ruckus,” Moore said, referring to not only Corapi, but also former School Board member Tiffany Justice and some members of the anti-mask Moms For Liberty group she co-founded.
Both Moore and Barefoot said Justice went to the lobby and invited people to come into the board chamber, knowing there were no seats available. She then used her phone to record video and audio of Corapi’s prolonged interaction with the deputies assigned to the meeting.
“This incident was, in my opinion, choreographed by Tiffany Justice,” Barefoot said.
In her own Facebook post, Justice wrote that she went to the lobby and invited people into the chamber only after she spoke with Moore before the start of the meeting and convinced him to instruct district staffers in the audience to vacate their seats to accommodate more parents and visitors.
She went on to accuse Moore and the board of discouraging the public from attending meetings, writing, “I felt, and still feel, that this was a blatant move on the district’s part to make speakers feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.”
That’s nonsense, of course.
The School Board has been limiting attendance in the chamber to accommodate social-distancing efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and visitors who want to address the board during the public-comment segments of meetings may do so, but some must wait in the lobby until their names are called.
For months, in fact, the board has patiently listened as the same lineup of anti-maskers paraded to the podium.
As for those auxiliary seats: They’re reserved to allow board members to watch presentations on the dais, as was the case at last week’s meeting, where students’ academic achievements were recognized.
Corapi, however, didn’t accept that explanation. He stubbornly argued with deputies for several minutes before he finally stood up and was physically escorted out of the chamber, attempting to verbally provoke an escalation of the incident on his way to the lobby.
“Why are you giving me a dirty look?” Corapi snapped at one deputy. “Why are you eyeballing me? You can’t eyeball me like that. Who do you think you are?”
In his belligerent remarks from the podium, Corapi referred to masks as “muzzles” and called the district’s mandate a “political charade,” even though four of the board’s five members are Republicans.
“It stops tonight,” he told board members, defiantly attacking the mask mandate. “Get back on your podium, do your job and finish this thing.”
Later in his tirade, he glared at the members and barked, “Look at me. Take a look. Don’t look down. Look at me when I’m speaking. … Don’t not look at me and look at your phone and play with your hair. Do it and listen.
“This is what we’re here for – to speak our truth.”
Here’s my truth: Attempts to intimidate School Board members by disrupting meetings, addressing them in a hostile tone and threatening protests at their homes is an insult to this community. It is bullying, and bullies should not be tolerated by any of us.
Especially our Chamber of Commerce.