Board of Education President Under Fire Weeks Before Election
Between a near-brawl at a recent City Council meeting and allegations leveled at a Board of Education meeting, some residents are questioning the city’s leadership and worrying about Clifton’s future.
Last month, Clifton resident Keith Bassford posted a teaser on Facebook, inviting members of the public to show up or tune in to the September 21st Board of Education meeting. At that meeting, Bassford addressed Board President Jim Smith directly during Public Privilege, starting with a comment about how social media can be used in wonderful ways but cautioning that digital footprints can never fully be erased.
He shared that his own family had been victimized on two separate occasions by people hiding behind fake profiles, perhaps indicating that he understood that fake profiles can and do happen, especially around an election. Bassford, under the guidance of his attorney, said that he could not respond to questions.
Bassford then said that someone had brought images to his attention that he found upsetting. They were taken from Messenger Kids, a Facebook product developed to give children a safe, parent-controlled way to chat, call, or share videos with parent-approved contacts. “You manage your child's experience on your Parent Dashboard, including choosing which features they can use and controlling their contact list,” the website says.
“I’m not making any accusations,” Bassford continued, as he described a profile allegedly discovered in a Messenger Kids chat with the name of Triscuit Smith and a photo of an animal that looks like Smith’s dog, Triscuit. That profile photo, in fact, appears to be a duplicate of the one Smith uses on his Twitter (X) account.
The 2022 message from Triscuit Smith reads, “Hi (name redacted) how r u doing? I hate being stuck in the house all this time but we had to remain safe. Say hi to (redacted) and (redacted). Triscuit says hi”
The nature of the message and its presence on the parent-controlled Messenger Kids seems to suggest that the Triscuit Smith profile is someone known to the family. Smith, under the advice of his attorney, declined to offer any comment or respond to questions.
Bassford, speaking calmly, said that he brought it up to make sure that Smith would not be “blindsided” by the news and shared that he was going to get to the bottom of it. He added that all of his collected information was being shared with appropriate law enforcement agencies. “I’m just doing this for the safety of children,” he said, though Det. Lt. Robert Bracken said that there were no active reports filed with the Clifton Police Department regarding Jim Smith. It was unclear which law enforcement agencies were involved.
During his own comments at the end of the meeting, Smith did not directly address Bassford but spoke at length about his pride in the district and the hard work of staff and administrators. “It shows in so many areas that Clifton is excelling,” he said.
At the next Board of Education meeting on October 5, President Smith opened with a lengthy personal statement, not included on the agenda. “It’s very hurtful in this town when we start attacking people and we have no proof, no evidence, and we don’t bring that. If you have it, you bring it forward,” he said.
Although he did not name Bassford, Smith’s comments seemed directed at him as he referenced “the last meeting” and suggested that the “attack on my character” was payback for Smith not supporting Bassford’s wife, Commissioner Judith Bassford, for board president. He further implied that it was a ploy to disrupt the elections, where Smith is running to retain his seat. Smith initially appeared calm but grew more agitated as he continued, his voice rising, “How dare you interrupt the progress of this district and waste people’s time on lies. Complete and utter lies.”
Smith again referenced what he said were false accusations and reminded the public that everyone on the dais completed a criminal background check when they were elected. “Do not ever come here and hurt any of our characters,” he concluded after nearly 15 minutes.
During the public comments portion of that meeting, Judith Bassford stepped off the dais and joined husband Keith and daughter Samantha in the audience. All three of them addressed the board, starting at minute 27:55 of this video.
Keith Bassford started off by angrily addressing Smith and accusing him of lying. He said that Smith chose not to look at the proof he had and should be thanking him for bringing the issue to his attention. A loud argument ensued in which Bassford said that he had made an OPRA request (Open Public Records Act) to see the content of Smith’s phone and computer, both of which are visible during meetings but had been denied until after the next meeting. “I’m entitled to it,” Bassford said. Meanwhile, Smith repeatedly tried to silence Bassford, saying that his comments were not appropriate for the meeting.
“I’m very disheartened,” said a weary-sounding Samantha Bassford, who had hoped to join her mother on the Board of Education in last year’s election and who is a frequent speaker at these meetings. “You can have a clean track record,” she said, “and it doesn’t mean that you haven’t done anything guilty [sic]. It just means you haven’t been caught.”
The last of the three to speak, Commissioner Judith Bassford echoed her husband’s comments about the potential good of social media. “If he’s wrong, he’ll apologize,” she said, adding that the matter had been brought to her family by a concerned party who remains unnamed. “If he’s right, what are you going to do about it?” she asked of her colleagues on the dais.
Bassford pointed out that Smith’s dog Triscuit frequently is permitted to run loose in the Welcome Center at School 6, the Board of Education building. She referenced Policy 5337 which details that all support animals, including Emotional Support dogs like Triscuit, must be leashed or otherwise tethered. She alleged that district staff members have come to her family with concerns about what they characterize as Smith’s over-involvement in the daily functions of the district. Bassford reminded him of his ethical duty to “confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them,” not to “take up residence” at School 6.
Bassford finished by imploring her colleagues to start listening to employees. “This is the beginning of an ethics charge,” she said and reminded them that ethics charges of board commissioners have already cost the district $80,000 in the last two years. “Do you want more ethics charges?”