Chairman of the Board

Despite the snazzy outfits, boutonnieres, and corsages, everyone knew this vote would be no mere formality. The November 17, 1998, swearing-in ceremony for Miami-Dade County School Board members had proceeded amicably enough, with incumbents Solomon C. Stinson, Manty Sabates Morse, and Perla Tabares Hantman, and newcomers Robert Ingram and Marta Perez, affirming oaths to fulfill their duties.

The real fun began when the board's nine members convened to decide who would be their chairman for the next year.

Demetrio Perez nominated Solomon Stinson, who had served in the post for two years. Stinson, a 60-year-old Alabama native, had turned the once largely ceremonial chairmanship into perhaps the second-most powerful position in Miami-Dade (after the mayor). He had become "a little more equal" than his colleagues, in the words of political consultant Phil Hamersmith.

Two challengers arose. Board member Dr. Michael M. Krop nominated Morse, and Perla Tabares Hantman proposed Betsy Kaplan. Morse, like Stinson, had been elected to a two-year term in 1996 and re-elected in 1998 without opposition. Kaplan had been a board member since 1988.

Seated on the far right of the dais, Superintendent of Schools Roger C. Cuevas called the roll. The sequence of votes would be forever etched in the memory of those in the jam-packed auditorium that day.

Braddock: "Morse."
Ingram: "Dr. Stinson."
Morse: "Morse."
Marta Perez: "Mrs. Morse."
Stinson: "Stinson."
Demetrio Perez: "Stinson."
Kaplan: "Kaplan."
Krop: "Morse."
Hantman: "Kaplan."

That meant four votes for Morse, three for Stinson, two for Kaplan. "Having no majority, we will call the roll again, beginning with Mrs. Hantman," Cuevas stated. The board members repeated their votes in reverse, as the roll was called from the left of the dais to the right. And so it went for more than 100 rounds. Thirty minutes, an hour, ninety minutes, two hours passed. The monotony was broken only by a couple of failed motions to reopen nominations and two short recesses.

The recesses were a welter of conversation, speculation, wheeling, and dealing. Board members retreated to the conference room behind the dais and the hallway outside the auditorium, walked out into the auditorium, conversed in twos and threes on the dais itself. A noticeably frazzled Hantman popped Advil throughout the proceedings.

Aides negotiated with each other and with board members. One lanky young fellow leaned over to Morse among a knot of bemused spectators and declared, "Demetrio wants assurances that ..." and then stopped short, apparently unsure of who might be within earshot.

There's a law against this kind of stuff in Florida; it's called government-in-the-sunshine. Elected officials are prohibited from discussing the public's business in private, yet that's clearly what happened.

Two hours and 102 ballots later, both the corsages and audience were beginning to wilt. As the board members and the bored audience returned to their seats after the two rounds of slam dancing with the sunshine law, Krop changed his mind.

The next time around he voted for Stinson.
The wiry chairman's deeply lined countenance, usually impassive during meetings, lit up in a reasonable facsimile of surprise. Hantman followed Krop's lead, giving the chairman the necessary five votes. The result: Stinson would remain chairman for another year. (In the denouement Krop was elected vice chair without opposition.)

A relieved wave of applause, with an undercurrent of murmuring, filled the auditorium. He'd done it again. Stinson looked vulnerable coming into the meeting, but he pulled it off, successfully bucking the tradition of rotating the chairmanship among members every two years.

Yet, as with so many of Stinson's other accomplishments, this election is rife with controversy. Since the November meeting, at least five board members have given sworn statements to Joe Centorino, head of the Public Corruption Unit of the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. The topic: possible sunshine-law violations during the meeting.

Accusations and rumors have swirled around Stinson throughout his 39-year career as a school official and resoundingly successful politician. It is perhaps this controversy that has made him press-shy and occasionally secretive. Stinson declined repeated requests over a month to be interviewed for this story and did not reply to questions faxed to his office. When a reporter approached him in the auditorium lobby at a recent board meeting, Stinson smiled and said, "I've been very busy, and haven't had time for that."

Of about 50 other people interviewed by New Times, some spoke highly of Stinson, his no-nonsense style, his experience, his intelligence, and his cutting sense of humor. But the majority, including nearly three dozen current and former district employees, derided him as a bully to whom the competency of his underlings is less important than their unwavering loyalty. Nearly all of Stinson's detractors employed by the school system declined to give their names, noting that openly criticizing the chairman is tantamount to career suicide.

Although many questions remain unanswered, Stinson's record provides clues about the man and his abilities. He has seen his superiors and subordinates investigated and even arrested over the years. Yet he has sailed through virtually unscathed, amassing unprecedented power over the school district's $3.5 billion budget. For his campaigns Stinson has twice raised record totals of more than $200,000. His contribution list includes both large amounts from school district contractors and small ones from school employees. And his personal wealth has grown by 60 percent during the past two years.

"He absolutely has no peer. He's a natural politician," says Phil Hamersmith. "He dominates that school system like very few people could. He's been elected and re-elected as chair, even when everybody wrote him off."

The rise of Solomon Clinnon Stinson was methodical rather than meteoric. It began in 1960, far back enough in Dade County history that, on his application for employment, he gave his race as "Negro," and was required to answer the question, "Do you believe in God?" (He placed a check next to "Yes.")

From 1960 to 1966 he taught at Holmes Elementary School. Beginning in 1962 he worked on his master's degree in education at the University of Iowa, completing his course work in 1967. He rose to assistant principal, then served as principal of North Glade Elementary School in Carol City from 1970 to 1973. He then returned to the University of Iowa for his doctorate, as one of eight recipients of the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation School Administrator National Internships. He earned his Ph.D. in 1975.

Solomon and Jessie Stinson were married in 1961, the same year they purchased a home at 6900 NW Fifth Ave. in Miami. Their daughter, Kyra, was born in 1968. Before Stinson left for Iowa in 1973, he and Jessie divorced. (Jessie Stinson has remained in the school system, and is principal of Hialeah Elementary School.)

Despite family problems Stinson's steady ascent in the school system hierarchy continued. He had apparently hitched his wagon to the correct star in Johnny Jones, who became the district's first black superintendent in 1977. Jones promoted Stinson to an administrative post downtown. In 1976 Stinson even became Jones's business partner in a venture called Contemporary Corporate Executive Alliance. The company operated a dry-cleaning business.

Then it all unraveled. Prosecutors began scrutinizing the business after hearing complaints that the dry-cleaning company was using Miami Northwestern Senior High students and facilities. This investigation eventually fizzled. In 1980 a Dade County jury convicted Jones of diverting public money to pay for gold plumbing fixtures in his house in Naples. The same year another jury found Jones guilty of misdemeanor witness-tampering in an unrelated bribery case. The witness-tampering charge stuck, but an appeals court overturned the gold-plumbing conviction in 1985.

Jones's disgrace was particularly stinging to Miami's black community. "After that I thought it would take an act of Congress to get another African-American superintendent," says state representative and former school board member Frederica Wilson, an elementary school principal at the time.

Stinson didn't stay down for long. After being busted to area superintendent, he worked his way back downtown in 1986, becoming associate superintendent of school operations.

By then he was within striking distance of the top spot. When the superintendent's job opened up in 1989, Stinson was a serious candidate. In early 1990 he lost to Paul Bell, a respected administrator with a background as a Spanish teacher. After Bell's death later that year, Octavio Visiedo, a sharp-tongued deputy superintendent who oversaw construction, bested Stinson for the position. (Visiedo promoted Stinson to deputy superintendent in 1991.) When Visiedo resigned in 1995, Alan Olkes, a long-time administrator nearing retirement, was named as an interim replacement.

Although he was repeatedly denied the superintendency, Stinson still held sway in the district. Both friends and enemies describe him as an extremely intelligent, competent, qualified administrator with a brusque demeanor, dry wit, and wicked sense of humor. Even some detractors admit he was probably the most qualified person for the superintendency throughout the early and mid-Nineties.

Aside from his business association with Jones, Stinson's baggage included a reputation as an extremely vindictive administrator who rewarded loyalty and punished disobedience with equal gusto.

None of which surprises school district observers. "One of the things I found over the years working in education is that the soldiers in that army are unusually loyal to their generals," says T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, who has known Stinson since the late Seventies and now comanages a charter school. "It is clearly a system where people get rewarded for being loyal.

"It speaks to how folks handle power," Fair continues. "It's clear in that system that, if you're on the team, you're on team. If not, you might get punished."

Two current, long-time district employees describe the following instance of the subtle-yet-effective nature of Stinson's revenge, exacted while he was a deputy superintendent:

An interim school principal planned to write a negative evaluation of a teacher. The principal was warned that the teacher was "protected" by Stinson and that it would not be in the principal's best interest to put a poor evaluation in the teacher's record. The principal did it anyway. The next school year the principal was bumped back to assistant principal, where he remained for a few more years before finally receiving a promotion. The principal "was made to go stand in a corner," says one of the employees.

Although he had no knowledge of the previously described incident, Patrick Snay, a onetime principal of Miami Killian Senior High School, contends Stinson reveled in the fear he struck in subordinates' hearts. "He used to say, 'You wouldn't want to make Dr. Stinson angry, would you?'" says Snay, now principal of a Catholic school in Hollywood.

Stinson has also built a reputation for equanimity among many employees. "He doesn't deal with any foolishness. You'd better have your ducks in a row when you go talk to him," offers Sherman Henry, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union local that represents the school district's custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. "He's a firm but fair main; Doc's a guy who let's you know his door is always open, but he knows if you're B.S.-ing him," Henry remarks.

After his third superintendency snub in 1995, Stinson decided not to wait anymore for the appointment. A new nine-member school board, elected by district rather than countywide, would be chosen in 1996. He decided to campaign for a spot on that body.

"For a number of years his hat was in the ring for superintendent, and he should have been superintendent," says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Carey, a friend and political ally of Stinson. "Of all the candidates, he was the most knowledgeable, the most experienced, the most capable."

Carey posits that it was Stinson's very competence that dissuaded previous school boards from choosing him. "He's a no-nonsense man who doesn't take any B.S. off of anybody. There were some people on that board who wanted to be in control and didn't want an African American up there outshining them. Any African American, not just Dr. Stinson," she says.

Michael Gonzalez, a onetime aide to former board member Robert Renick, is similarly blunt: "I felt the board blew it by not letting him be superintendent," he declares.

Stinson has twice been elected to represent District 2, which covers Overtown, Liberty City, and Little Haiti. Although it's unclear whether he lives there, his constituents don't seem to care, despite the fact that one aim of the 1996 changeover to district elections was to increase local representation.

Stinson does co-own property in the district: a house at 6900 NW Fifth Ave., where his ex-wife Jessie lives. The terms of ownership were made clear in their divorce settlement. At the time he first ran for the school board, he did not declare his interest in that property. Among the assets shown on his 1995 financial disclosure form, which candidates and officeholders file annually with the state, were four pieces of real estate, including what he termed his "home" at 921 South Biscayne River Dr. in the North Miami-Dade neighborhood of Biscayne Gardens.

On the copies of this form filed with the Miami-Dade Elections Department, he listed the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. house as his mailing address. He did not, however, note it as an asset.

On his 1996 disclosure, the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. house appears listed among his assets. All four of his properties are described simply as "house."

His 1997 form suggests that he has grown more attached to the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. place; he described this site as his "home" and the Biscayne Gardens address as a mere "house."

Numerous press accounts in both New Times and the Miami Herald have pointed out that Stinson does not reside in his district. Board members Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Demetrio Perez have also been the subject of questions regarding their residence. After investigating the issue, the State Attorney's Office this past August ruled that the law governing single-member districts did not define "residency" in a way that would preclude Stinson, Diaz de la Portilla, or Perez from qualifying as "residents" of their respective districts.

Questions of his habitation in District 2 notwithstanding, Stinson has proven close to unbeatable with those boundaries. One reason: money. For the 1996 election, he raised $202,915 and proceeded to thrash his opponents in the Democratic primary (Ellen Bethel, an educational liaison with the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department) and in the general election (Ronald Cantwell, a retired pediatrician).

Neither opponent raised anywhere near that amount. In fact no other candidate in any of that year's school-board races raised even half as much. "The guy's got a well-oiled machine," Cantwell says now, matter-of-factly.

That's pretty much all Cantwell will say about his doomed run against Stinson. He will not comment on a pamphlet that one of his campaign workers, J.A. Alex, distributed during the 1996 election. That document offered unsubstantiated allegations that Stinson was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Neither charge carried much weight, perhaps because drinking is legal and Stinson has been unmarried since 1973. (Drinking and driving is not legal. A 1995 DUI charge is the only criminal blot on Stinson's record. He pleaded guilty, paid a $250 fine, lost his license for six months, and was sentenced to six month's probation.)

Bethel would not comment on the campaign except to say, "He's a difficult man if he feels he's been crossed, so I have to decline [to comment]."

No one dared to oppose the Stinson juggernaut in 1998, when the chairman again set the standard for school-board election fundraising with a war chest of $218,156.

Could anyone beat Stinson in his district? "Oh, no," declares T. Willard Fair. "He's set there for as long as he would like to be there."

Lacking opposition, Stinson spent relatively little on campaigning in 1998. He held events including a kickoff at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a Casino Miami cruise, an airport Hilton fashion show, a Westin Resort gala, and a Wyndham Biscayne Bay thank-you celebration. The total cost for these came to $19,477. His campaign also shelled out money to print up some posters, pay the phone and electric bills for his campaign office, and provide a $24,000 campaign salary for Fred Young, his school board aide.

That left a substantial amount of unspent funds, which Stinson parceled out to various nonprofit organizations, mostly within Miami's black community: ten churches, including New Birth Baptist Church ($10,000), Mount Tabor Baptist Church, where Stinson is an officer ($15,000), and Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Decatur, Georgia ($10,000); the Coalition to Improve Northwest Dade ($10,000); 500 Role Models of Excellence, a group founded by Frederica Wilson ($5,000); and the Gwen Cherry Park Foundation ($10,000).

Like most successful Miami-Dade politicians, he received numerous large donations from school board contractors and prospective contractors. Construction, health care, food service, computer, and school uniform companies made contributions to his campaign. Under Florida law individuals or companies are not allowed to give more than $500 each; however, health care giant Humana gave Stinson's campaign five $500 checks -- one each from the company's Delray Beach, Lantana, Davie, Pembroke Pines, and West Palm Beach offices.

Other candidates in school board races and throughout the Miami-Dade County polity routinely accept large amounts from vendors. Stinson's fundraising is distinguished by the hundreds of smaller contributions from school district administrators and teachers who attended or bought tickets (for as little as fifteen dollars) to his fundraising events.

One school employee characterized a donation to Stinson's campaign as "cheap insurance" for one's job security. District employees contribute to many candidates' campaigns, opines Patrick Snay, who left the district in 1998. "This has been going on for at least ten years," he says. "Tickets are sold by the region offices all the time. People knew it would be in their best interest to buy them, and to be on that [campaign contribution] list."

"I know [Stinson] puts pressure on teachers to contribute to his campaign," admits Helen Williams, a former middle-school English teacher in the district who was fired this past year. "When I was teaching, many people said, 'You know you'd better contribute.'"

"One thing about Sol, he was always candid with you," says a faculty member who asked not to be named. "His position was, 'You either back me or payback is hell.'"

Sometimes the solicitations were explicit. After it became clear that Stinson would be unopposed in 1998, his top priority became protecting the five-vote coalition necessary to preserve his chairmanship. One beneficiary of his efforts was Renier Diaz de la Portilla, a board member who had supported Stinson's bid for the chair in 1996 and 1997. In late summer 1998, Diaz de la Portilla's Republican opponent, Marta Perez, was nearly matching his fundraising efforts.

Stinson enthusiastically backed Diaz de la Portilla, and not just with moral support. Two sources contacted for this story contend that high-ranking school district administrators attended at least one meeting with Stinson that summer, in which he asked them to raise money for Diaz de la Portilla.

The sources' knowledge of the meeting is secondhand; neither one attended. One claims to have overheard an administrator describing the meeting. The other, a school employee, confirms receiving a call at work afterward from an immediate superior soliciting a campaign contribution for Diaz de la Portilla. "I guarantee you that meeting took place," the latter source states.

If such a phone call were made by a school employee, on school grounds, on school time, it would likely violate Florida elections law, which prohibits candidates from using public employees to campaign for them during working hours. The same law bars candidates or campaign workers from soliciting contributions in a public building.

If true it would not be the first time that a Stinson backer has broken the law. In the 1996 campaign, Eddie Pearson, then a region superintendent, solicited donations for Stinson's campaign at a principals' meeting at West Kendall's Calusa Elementary School. Pearson was slapped with a $500 fine for committing this misdemeanor, and subsequently promoted to Stinson's old job as deputy superintendent for school operations.

Diaz de la Portilla could not be reached for comment for this story. His campaign finance reports show that he did receive a major boost of cash at the last minute. In the weeks immediately preceding the September 1 Republican primary, Diaz de la Portilla raised $109,465 -- more than he had during the rest of his campaign. Of that total Diaz de la Portilla loaned himself $50,000. The other $59,465 largely came from ticket sales to a fundraising event at the Radisson Hotel.

School district personnel were out in force at that fundraiser, much as they had been at Stinson's shindigs. Those attending, or at least buying tickets to, the Diaz de la Portilla event included downtown administrators, school police officers, regional administrators, and principals.

Still, the extra funds were for naught: Marta Perez edged out Diaz de la Portilla in the primary.

Chairman Stinson runs the monthly school board meetings in a style that is sometimes curt, even abusive, to the public, staff, and fellow board members. His control of the agenda and his colleagues' comments is constantly felt. When the board discusses how to spend its $3.5 billion budget, Stinson shapes the debate.

"The chair is like all other pre-strong mayor positions: It's defined by the person who holds it," says political consultant Phil Hamersmith. "You wouldn't know it by the city charter, but when Maurice Ferre was mayor of Miami, he ran that city. When Arthur Teele was chairman of the Dade County Commission, he appeared to be as powerful then as [Executive Mayor] Alex [Penelas] is now."

As for the school board today, Hamersmith declares: "Sol Stinson is, in my opinion, running the show."

A teacher concurs: "Sol right now wields much more power than he ever did as a deputy. He always wanted to be superintendent, and the inside joke is now he's got it."

The nominal superintendent, Roger C. Cuevas, was appointed in 1996 to the position Stinson had sought for years. In contrast to previous superintendents, Cuevas remains nearly silent at board meetings and rarely talks to the media. That strengthens the perception that Stinson is the true power in the school system.

Cuevas's second-in-command, Henry C. Fraind, deputy superintendent of schools, has heard these theories, but he dismisses them outright.

"[Stinson] does not, and you can quote me on this, he does not run the system," Fraind stresses. "Dr. Solomon C. Stinson is a policymaker, and a policymaker has four major jobs: One, he's one vote among the other eight who hires and fires the superintendent; two, one vote in hiring and firing the chief attorney for the school board; three, one vote to approve the budget on an annual basis; four, one vote to make board policy.

"Board members have no authority to direct the work force," Fraind continues. "Only the superintendent of schools or his designee can direct the work force. I have clear-cut authority, systemwide, and I can tell you that no board member can run this system."

The school board has a rule preventing board members from giving direct orders to district personnel. But there is no penalty for breaking it. And school employees contacted by New Times say board members regularly violate it.

Florida's public records include some intriguing glimpses of the enigmatic Stinson. The fact that he has a concealed weapons permit is of some interest and his financial disclosure forms make for compelling reading. In addition to the appearance and disappearance of cars and houses, the change in his bottom line since he became chairman is substantial.

In 1995, before his election to the school board, Stinson estimated his net worth at $460,500. In 1996 he subtracted a $40,000 car, added a $64,000 house (the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. residence), and his net worth crept up to $490,000.

It was in 1997, after he had been board chairman for more than a year, that the big jump occurred: As of December 31, 1997, he reported his net worth at $739,000. The vast majority of the increase appeared in the form of liquid assets. His Capital Bank savings account went from $102,000 to $160,000; an account called "TSA Northern" went from $220,000 to $300,000; his credit union account went from $25,000 to $39,000. The 1996 form listed "Kemper 40,000," while the 1997 form listed "Opp Inv. 75,000." All told, a $249,000 increase in his net worth from December 31, 1996, to December 31, 1997.

His declared income during that time was his state pension of $77,000, and his board member salary of $30,000. He listed no other business interests on his forms from 1995 through 1997. Department of State records show him as an officer in only two active Florida corporations: Mount Tabor Baptist Church, and Movers, Inc., both of which are nonprofits. Movers (an acronym for Minorities Overcoming the Virus through Education, Responsibility, and Spirituality) is an HIV/AIDS charity associated with Mount Tabor.

Certainly the bullishness of the stock market in recent years could at least partially explain the jump, but like so much about Stinson, the true reasons remain a mystery.

The setting was unusually opulent for a back-to-school breakfast. English teacher Tonya Tarpley knew that moving from a middle school to Miami Northwestern Senior High in August 1997 meant stepping up to the big leagues of teaching jobs. But a back-to-school breakfast at the airport Hilton?

"When I was in middle school, we'd have our welcome-back breakfast in the library with doughnuts and orange juice," she chuckles. "And here at Northwestern, we're having it at the Miami Airport Hilton. There were ice sculptures, the school's jazz band. It was beautiful."

But something was wrong with the picture. The assembled faculty, she noticed, appeared anything but enthusiastic. "There were all these sour faces," Tarpley recalls. "The teachers were like, 'We'll be glad to get back to our rooms to put up our bulletin boards.'"

After the teachers had sat down to their buffet breakfast, William E. Clarke III, Northwestern's principal, stood up to speak. The thickset administrator offered a few cheery words of encouragement, singling out the "new blood" among the faculty, and asking the new teachers, Tarpley included, to stand. He then introduced another speaker: a short, slight man with a swept-back mane of salt-and-pepper hair.

Tarpley recognized him immediately. "With that hair, he kind of looks like Frederick Douglass -- a skinny Frederick Douglass," she says. "I looked up there and I was like, 'Wow, the chairman of the school board!'" Then, in his relentlessly dour style, Stinson launched into a speech that left Tarpley utterly flummoxed.

She doesn't remember the words, but the gist of his message stuck with Tarpley. "He was like, 'The stuff you all pulled last year, you're not going to be able to pull that anymore,'" she recalls. "Then he told us the number of other schools there were, and said, 'If you don't like how Bill is running this one, you can go to one of them.'

"He said, 'Bill is a close, personal friend of mine, and I don't care about what kind of trouble you try to cause for him. He will be here long after many of you are gone. Bill is not going anywhere.'

"I looked around, and everybody looked like they were getting ready for another year of hell," Tarpley says. "I didn't know what [Stinson] was talking about. I was just happy to be there."

Less than a year later, Tarpley understood the underlying meaning of Stinson's admonishments. At the time Stinson warned Clarke's gloomy troops, three women employees at Northwestern had accused Clarke of sexual harassment. Two of those complaints eventually blossomed into lawsuits against Clarke and the school district. After a jury found in favor of one of these plaintiffs, Jacqueline Hazel, the school board voted on February 10, 1998, not to appeal that decision, and to settle a second suit brought by Sonja Renee Miller. The total cost of Clarke's alleged misconduct in taxpayer dollars: $1,035,740. According to Henry Fraind, the district is not planning any disciplinary action against Clarke.

As his address to the Northwestern faculty appeared to indicate to Tarpley, Stinson was aware of the allegations against Clarke. In fact, his lack of a response to those allegations was brought up during Clarke's sexual harassment trial. (The claims were made while Stinson was an administrator.)

Clarke was not the only member of Team Stinson to face multiple allegations of sexual harassment during Stinson's deputy superintendency. Stinson's younger brother Samuel, principal of Brentwood Elementary School, has also faced such charges. Whether Solomon Stinson interceded directly on behalf of either of these men is unclear, but at the very least, he was apprised of the inquiries into their behavior.

In 1993 Barbara Bennett, a part-time teacher's aide and cafeteria monitor at Brentwood, complained to the district's equal employment office that Samuel Stinson had sexually harassed her by calling her at home and asking her out. That office investigated and found her accusations unsubstantiated. In 1994 the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office in Miami also was unable to find a violation of the sexual harassment statute in Bennett's case.

In December 1995 Susan Onori, an assistant principal at Brentwood, lodged another complaint against Samuel Stinson with the district's equal employment office. On the form she wrote, "[Samuel] Stinson would continuously make comments about my clothing, my body, and my breasts. Stinson also inappropriately and without my consent attempted to kiss me and touch my hands and legs.... Mr. Stinson threatened me and told me that unless I showed him my appreciation and/or dated him, he would not give me favorable evaluations."

On February 29, 1996, Magaly C. Abrahante, then executive director of the district's equal employment office, wrote Onori that her staff had investigated these allegations, and that "... this office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the complaint you filed."

None of the interviews in this district office's file directly corroborate Onori's allegations and Samuel Stinson denies all claims. But two of the women interviewed for Onori's case told investigators that Samuel Stinson harassed them as well. There is no indication in Samuel Stinson's personnel file that the latter complaints were pursued.

Onori, who now works for the Broward County School District, would not comment on the case, except to note that she could have filed a federal lawsuit but decided against it.

Solomon Stinson, who at the time was both deputy superintendent for school operations and a school board candidate, received a copy of all relevant correspondence in his brother's case. Other than Solomon Stinson's comments in 1997 to the teachers at Northwestern, no one contacted for this story could characterize Stinson's reaction to the allegations against either Clarke or his brother.

Several school district employees, though, maintain that the district's inaction against Clarke and Samuel Stinson is related to Solomon Stinson's influence. Both of those men are widely perceived to be "protected" by the elder Stinson.

The employees also claim that any teacher or lower-echelon administrator who has a problem with a Stinson-protected principal can expect little recourse within the school system. Any workplace grievance related to the teachers' union contract, for example, eventually wends its way to the deputy superintendent for school operations: Eddie Pearson. Pearson was the man caught violating Florida elections law while raising money for Stinson.

"I work for one of Solomon Stinson's sorry-ass principals," growls one teacher who insists that his name be withheld. "He's just no goddamn good, but he's so clearly protected by Sol, it's sickening.


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