MARICOPA — The Maricopa Unified School District board meeting took a turn for the unexpected Wednesday night when board members were served with legal papers.
The board had already begun its regularly scheduled meeting when three individuals — two males and a female — walked into the room and sat in the first two rows. After the board discussed one agenda item, one of the men got up and tried to hand board members papers.
They all quickly interjected, saying it was illegal for the man to do this because it wasn’t on the agenda. The man, however, persisted. He tried multiple times to hand the board papers.
The second man, who was still seated in the audience and was filming the interaction, stated that it was illegal for the board not to accept the papers. He mentioned that he had tried to serve them prior to this but was not able to.
The man on the stage placed a set of papers in front of each board member — but not in front of Superintendent Tracey Lopeman — and exited the room. They were followed out by district staff.
Director of Human Resources Tom Beckett said he doesn’t know the technicalities of the documents because he gave them to the district’s attorney without reviewing them. He did say, however, that there were three separate documents, one of which was labeled as a special action.
Beckett himself was served the same special action document about three weeks ago.
While seemingly unexpected, the situation actually has a spider-web history.
The man who served the district papers is Chauncey Hollingberry. Hollingberry is the leader of a “First Amendment auditing” group called Dragonfire Auditing.
According to the Dragonfire YouTube page, Hollingberry and his associates visit government agencies, testing the boundaries of their First Amendment rights and baiting government officials to see how they respond in these situations. They film the entire interaction.
Hollingberry has videos posted from across the Valley, including at Mesa and Phoenix police departments. At the beginning of the year, he also visited the Maricopa Police Department to “audit” it.
Video shows Hollingberry speaking with an MPD officer outside of the building. When asked what he is doing, Hollingberry responds that he is collecting personal license plate numbers of his “employees.”
The officer then asks who his employees are and Hollingberry says, “You all work for me. I am your master.”
The interaction continues with the officer asking Hollingberry more questions about what he is doing. Hollingberry countered by asking why the officer was working while he should be on a break. When asked what his name is, Hollingberry says that his “employees call me Daddy or Master.”
The video later ends after the officer wishes Hollingberry a good day and gets back into his patrol vehicle.
According to MPD Public Information Officer Ricardo Alvarado, that video was later posted to the MPD Facebook page. This sparked a slew of negative reviews of the department from people who Alvarado claims are Hollingberry’s “followers.”
Alvarado said the department has received multiple calls to service regarding Hollingberry filming at public entities, like the post office and City Hall.
But one Maricopa resident was not having it.
Jamie Morano, a teacher at Santa Cruz Elementary School, also took to the Facebook page to defend the department and call out Dragonfire Auditing for the video.
She said Hollingberry instigated the situation and also said it was racist of him to tell the officer — who is African American — to call him “Master.”
“I believe in transparency and accountability, but you don’t go trying to start stuff in a disrespectful manner like (Hollingberry) did,” Morano said.
But Hollingberry wasn’t going to back down. Faced with confrontation, Hollingberry filed a personnel complaint against the district. Morano said he claimed Morano used her work computer during work hours to harass, intimidate and defame him.
“Since nothing I ever posted about him was during school hours, nor was it harassing in nature, his complaint was dismissed,” Morano said.
Hollingberry then asked for Morano’s personnel file, but when the district gave him information that was available on her public MUSD profile, he claimed staff wasn’t complying.
Hence, the public action of serving papers.
Beckett said the district was in compliance with the information that was provided to Hollingberry, and he feels staff gave the “auditor” everything he was requesting. Beckett said the spectacle at the meeting was an odd situation, to say the least, and very inappropriate.
While the encounter took many in the room by surprise, district staff were anticipating the situation. Beckett said the man had announced that he would come to the meeting that night. During the meeting, a MUSD security guard was standing outside of the building.
The Maricopa Police Department was immediately called after the group left the room.
Flustered, but maintaining a business mindset, the board continued the meeting. The papers that were served to board members remained on the dais throughout the meeting.
“Since it was illegally served, no board member read or took the paperwork,” board member Patti Coutre later said in a message.
She said the papers were left on the dais per the advice of the district attorney. The district will continue to consult its attorney moving forward to see what action to take.