By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Polling precincts are now open in Alabama House District 104, which covers areas in south Mobile County, for a special election that was delayed from last week due to the severe weather conditions. However, some in the district, particularly active Theodore High School alumni, may have thoughts other than reminiscences of the snowpocalypse on their minds.
Recently, a social media disaster began brewing involving the House election when alumni of Theodore High School began complaining about extensive campaigning going on over a Facebook page devoted solely to school affairs. Membership of the group increased significantly at the beginning of the special election campaign season, with a new administrator being allowed to add users to the group. Margie Wilcox herself admits to posting updates about the election, but says it was only in an effort to keep her fellow alumni up to date, not to campaign.
Some, though, say that the real problem came when users began being censored when they expressed views contrary to campaign posts, or otherwise asked that the campaigning stop in general. Veteran and Theodore Alum David Sands says that is exactly what happened to him, and that he is not alone. “Once the administrator was switched, things changed.”
Another alum posted to the group, called “Theodore High School Alumni – Alabama:”
“Yesterday I made a comment on this page that neither hurt nor offended anyone and yet you decided to erase and kick me out of the group because I said that “this page looks more like a campaign headquarters than an alumni page.” This was totally uncalled for and childish. I am sorry that the integrity of Theodore High School Alumni is tarnished by such selfish behavior and rudeness.”
Administration in the group was handed over to Carrie Rozycke on December 31st of last year. Her LinkedIn page reveals that she works as a clerk in the Mobile County Public School System’s telecommunications department. This became to become extremely important when Mr. Sands, who says he was a registered Republican and does not live in HD104, notified that he had been contacted by officials within MCPSS, including the head of the technology department and the superintendent, Martha Peek, in reference to the alumni group situation.
Sands said Peek relayed that while she was “unaware of the situation,” “the employees are not supposed to be politicking.” She said that “she was going to get her people on it first thing [yesterday,] as the election is [today.”
MCPSS does have a social media policy that applies to employees, though it is unclear how it applies in the situation.
Margie Wilcox and her campaign have denied any wrongdoing, again reiterating that their use of the alumni group was purely informational.
Stephen Carr, Wilcox’s Democratic opponent in today’s election, released the following statement to Alabama Political Reporter for this story:
“Late last week I received a friend request from a Navy veteran. I accepted the friend request due to my own military background as I have done countless times over the years through Facebook. This particular gentleman stated that he was a graduate of Theodore High School in Mobile, and that he was highly upset that the alumni Facebook page for THS “appeared to have been hijacked” by my political opponent, and that because of this perceived violation he was going to support my campaign. I thanked him for his service and his support of our campaign and I believed the concern to be one between himself and his fellow alumni and whoever had administrative privileges of the THS group. Our own campaign has used social media as an effective tool throughout our campaign and I have managed my campaign Facebook page as well as my personal page on my own and have always clearly labeled our activity as directly managed by my campaign. We have never used a third party group for our messaging. My hope is that this issue will not have any long term impacts on any of the alumni or the good name of Theodore High School.”
Several alternative Theodore High School alumni social media groups have sprung up since the issue arose.
Alabama Political Reporter will continue to cover this story, and is trying to get a formal statement from the Mobile County Public School System. The results of the election will be up on our website, as well as up to the minute updates on our Facebook at facebook.com/alreporter or on Twitter @alreporter.