John King is a board member of the Kyrene school district in Arizona, serving since 2012. He has been accused of threatening a constituent’s law career after the latter emailed him about delaying the start of school.
Katie Giel, a J.D. candidate at Arizona State University and a former Kyrene student, said she was worried about the safety of students and teachers of the Kyrene school district, and wrote an email to King on the night of July 22, expressing her concerns about restarting schools in Arizona, a hotspot of the pandemic.
King’s response to Giel a few minutes later surprised her:
I am forwarding this to the district leadership. You will be contacted by the appropriate authorities. This may or may not affect your JD. I’d be careful sending such emails with this kind of verbiage.
Giel wrote back and said what seemed to offend King was the “weight of the health and safety decisions” that he had to handle. She asked him to “consider the safety of students and staff above all else” again. She also told him it would be “wildly inappropriate” for him to threaten her career because she sent the previous email “as a constituent.”
King, who The Arizona Republic said appeared opposed to delaying the start of school, replied and said Giel was “uninformed.” He then asked her to plead with her “teacher friends” and mentioned her law degree again.
It would be helpful for you to do a thorough analysis of what is really happening so that you don’t come off so uninformed. Your teacher friends are able to cancel their contract without penalty. Why don’t you go plead with them. And I’m not the least bit intimidated by your JD.
Giel only identified herself as a law student at Arizona State University once in the signature block in her first email, the email chain she forwarded to Heavy shows. She said it was only a generic signature block that a lot of students would use and that she didn’t see how her law degree was relevant to the discussion. “It never occurred to me that an elected official would threaten to interfere in my livelihood and in my education,” she said.
She told Heavy that she believed her message was “respectful and empathetic,” and that King’s implication of interfering in her law career caught her off guard. “I was very surprised to see that his response to me was to threaten and belittle me, rather than to take responsibility for the elected office that he holds,” Giel said.
And for him to do that, it was disgusting, but also very telling, I think, about the lengths that he will go to, to not be accountable to his voters. So I found that extremely troubling and that’s why I decided to post it on social media because I thought that voters in the Kyrene school district should know who they are electing.
King did not immediately respond to Heavy’s request for comment. Lily Altavena, a reporter from The Arizona Republic, said King refused to respond to the issue and hung up her phone. A Kyrene School District spokesperson also told The Arizona Republic that the district “does not comment on individual board member exchanges with constituents.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Another Constituent Also Accused King of Trying to Interfere in His Job
King has faced backlash since Giel tweeted about their email exchange and many people expressed solidarity with her, including Doug Sylvester, dean of Arizona State University’s law school. He tweeted in support of Giel and said he hoped King would apologize.
Andrew Kennedy, a sustainability major at Arizona State University, replied to Giel on Twitter and said that King tried to interfere in his job too after he sent King an email on July 17, urging him to delay the opening of school in the Kyrene school district.
The email chain that Kennedy forwarded to Heavy shows King accusing Kennedy, who’s also a former student of the Kyrene school district, of “threatening” him with the following remark:
I have a strong feeling that with your term ending this year, the public will have a very critical eye of how you handle the safety of students and teachers when voting. If any teachers, students, support staff, or administration die from this virus because you choose to open before COVID cases go down, it will be on your hands.
On July 20, Kennedy, who will be a senior this fall, said he was contacted by his academic advisor at Arizona State University. His academic advisor told him that King had forwarded their emails to the university, saying that Kennedy was threatening him. The emails finally got to the dean of Kennedy’s school and his academic advisor, who didn’t think there were any threats, Kennedy told Heavy.
Kennedy said King also emailed the organization he worked for on campus, but his bosses supported him. Just like Giel, Kennedy also had an email signature that indicated his identity.
Giel was also aware of the incident with Kennedy, and she wasn’t too worried about what King could do to harm her career, saying that her emails were “completely appropriate and completely professional.”
2. King Had a Dispute With Other Board Members About Reopening School
More than 90 school board members across Arizona have signed a letter urging Governor Doug Ducey to delay school reopening which is scheduled on August 17. Among them are two of King’s colleagues at the Kyrene school district, Board Vice President Kevin Walsh of Chandler and member Michelle Fahy of Tempe.
In a board meeting on July 14, King criticized Walsh and Fahy for signing the letter without consulting with the entire board. He accused them of violating an agreement that prevented individual board members from taking political sides publicly.
“We are not here for the politics,” King said. “We are here for our students.”
He also accused a board member of directly reaching out to teachers and asking them to send emails to Kyrene school district’s superintendent to pressure her to delay the start of in-person education.
Giel said King’s reference to her as a friend of teachers implied that he didn’t see himself as a friend of teachers. “I’m very disappointed that he doesn’t seem to see himself as someone who is a friend to teachers and needs to protect teachers,” she told Heavy.
3. King Has Been a Kyrene School District Board Member Since 2012
King was first elected as a member of the governing board of the Kyrene school district in 2012 and is serving his second term, according to Ballotpedia. His current term will expire in December this year, Kyrene school district’s website shows.
In a 2012 interview with the Ahwatukee Foothills News, he said he was running for the board because he wanted to see his community move forward.
I want to see things continue to move forward. Things are changing in the community, and we are starting to see those things affect us in many different ways. I have a business background and an education background, and I think that I can mold those together in such a way to enhance the board.
He also said in the interview that the school district needed “some innovative thought process and some new fresh ideas” to maintain its education quality.
King won reelection in 2016, with an advantage of a little more than 1% over another candidate Eshe Pickett, according to Ballotpedia.
The Kyrene school district covers “all of Ahwatukee and parts of Chandler, Guadalupe, Tempe, and the Gila River Indian Reservation,” its website says. It serves 26 schools and enrolls about 16,500 students.
4. King Ran for the Arizona House of Representatives as a Republican in 2014
King was a Republican candidate for District 18 of the Arizona House of Representatives in 2014, Ballotpedia shows. His campaign highlighted employment and economy, education, and safety.
He quoted his experience with the Kyrene school district in his campaign website, which has now been taken down, according to Ballotpedia:
Education is essential in building strong individuals, strong families and strong communities. I was honored to have been elected to the School Board by the voters of this area. During my time on the School Board I have worked hard for sensible policies that include local control, excellent educational opportunities and a fiscally responsible budget. I will continue to work for locally controlled, fiscally responsible educational excellence.
King was endorsed by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, but he lost in the primary election to Jill Norgaard and Bob Robson, with only 20.5% of all votes.
5. Kings Once Worked as an Entertainer & Said He Was a ‘Diamond in the Rough’
King holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Florida Atlantic University, and he graduated with a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pheonix in 1989, his LinkedIn shows.
He has worked a variety of jobs in both business and education, including working as an adjunct professor at the University of Pheonix, according to Vote Smart. He’s currently a commercial agent at Keller Williams.
King told the Ahwatukee Foothills News that he was an entertainer for a couple of years before he got into corporate in his 30s and started as a programmer for a bank. He said he worked his way up to “the level of executive vice president and chief information officer.”
King took pride in being multifaceted and thought it would serve him well working as a board member of the Kyrene school district. “I’m kind of like a diamond in the rough,” he said. “I have all these different skill sets that I bring to the table.