By Paul Thompson
An unregistered group headed by a nonexistent president made waves in the days before the April 2 Kansas City elections when it launched potentially libelous campaign material aimed at Hickman Mills C-1 school board candidates Debbie Aiman and George Flesher.
The group, called Parents United to Save Our Children, does not appear to have a paper trail, and their purported president, Charlotte Messer Birney, is not a registered voter in the city of Kansas City.
The literature in question supported candidates Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend with an A+ grade, while grading Aiman and Flesher as “F” candidates.
On April 2, Hickman Mills’ voters elected Kirkwood and Townsend as their new C-1 school board members with 30.02% and 27.87% of the vote, respectively. In a tight race, Aiman placed third with 24.53% of the vote, and George Flesher finished fourth with 16.38%.
The controversy didn’t deter voting in the election. According to the Kansas City Election Board’s website, 4,187 votes were tallied in total, more than twice the 1,597 counted in the C-1 Board of Education election from April of 2012.
The mailer, sent to the mailboxes of many Hickman Mills voters the weekend before the Tuesday vote, calls former C-1 board member Aiman a “cookie decorator” who was fired from a teaching position for incompetence, does not live within the Hickman Mills school district, and owes delinquent taxes in Jackson County.
In a conversation with the Advocate, Aiman notes that the claims were largely untrue. She lives in the Hickman Mills district, and she has never been fired from a teaching position. Aiman is also a business
owner who has run her own business, A Sweet Decoration, since 1999.
The mailer did contain at least one truth, though. Aiman found that she did have overdue taxes in Jackson County from 2003, to the tune of about $60. She was previously unaware of the overdue fee and promptly paid the balance upon learning of it.
“I was very upset, because it wasn’t true,” said Aiman of the mailer’s most derisive claims. “I know it’s been reported to the Ethics Commission.”
George Flesher received similar treatment from the mailer. In it, Flesher was described as a “night club bouncer” who charged thousands of dollars to district credit cards, and who did not return district property upon being voted off the school board last spring. Flesher took issue with the claims contained
in the mailer.
“Everything they said there was basically untrue,” said Flesher. He said that his listed job title on the campaign literature was disingenuous in nature. “That’s one aspect of what I do,” he explained.
“I do process serving, fugitive recovery, bail bonds, and personal security.”
Although both Aiman and Flesher were upset with the dirty campaign strategy, both clearly stated that they didn’t feel their opponents, Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend, had anything to do with the stunts. Kirkwood even went as far as to call Aiman and Flesher to personally apologize. Aiman also spoke with Townsend about it at a polling location.
“Shawn Kirkwood called me the night the thing went out,” said Flesher. “He apologized and said that he had nothing to do with putting that out.”
Aiman echoed the sentiment.
“Shawn was the very first person I had heard from,” she said. “As soon as he got it in the mail he called me. He’s a good guy.”
When contacted, Kirkwood and Townsend showed strong distaste for the tactics employed by Parents United to Save Our Children.
“I was shocked like anybody else. I didn’t think there was a place for that in a school board election,”
Kirkwood told the Advocate. “I was kind of appalled. It had personal information about Mr. Flesher
and Debbie Aiman, and there’s no place for that.”
Townsend had a similar message for those behind the campaign literature.
“I have no idea where this came from and who these people are,” said Townsend. “There really was no need for that to come out. I don’t know what the objective was. I think it kind of hurt me more than it helped me.”
Kirkwood had strong words for those behind the mailer.
"I hope whoever put this thing out doesn’t think that they are helping me. We wanted to win or lose on our
own merit, like we did before,” he said, referring to a previous run at a position on the C-1 Board of Education. “We lost, but I was proud of that.”
Aiman says that she’s still picking up the pieces even after the election has come to its conclusion.
“I’m just trying to do damage control, because people are thinking I’m this terrible person, and I’m just not.”