The Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 on Friday fired the private security firm it had used to provide security at North High/Middle School after an incident involving pepper spray the day earlier.
Seven students were exposed to pepper spray by the security officer assigned to the school.
We were very clear that we did not agree with the actions of the security officer and determined that it is in our best interest to terminate the services of DTH, Bill Clark, spokesman for the school district, said in a news release. The unnamed security officer sprayed a student with pepper spray twice, once after observing an exchange between a school administrator and the student and again after following the student into the school s Career Center. Other students in the Career Center were also exposed to the pepper spray, the district said. According to reports on Thursday afternoon, the exchange between a school official and the student arose from music playing on a cell phone and some apparent difficulty in turning it off.
After the pepper spray was discharged, law enforcement and EMS services were called to the school and the school was locked down to prevent other students from being exposed to the pepper spray, the district said.
All students involved in the incident were able to return to school on Friday, the district said.
SKOWHEGAN A new security guard at the Somerset County courthouse and a new dispatcher at the communications center have added to what otherwise is a flat-funded budget for the coming year, officials said Friday. The county Budget Committee gave its blessing Thursday night to a spending package for the coming year of $12,340,408, up 1.6 percent from the budget approved by county commissioners at this time last year. The final figure includes a 1 percent overlay for unexpected shortfalls in property tax revenue, bringing the total to $12,534,097.
Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Mike Cray sits at his new work station as a security officer in the Somerset County Courthouse in Skowhegan. Cray, of Palmyra, started his new duties April 1. Somerset County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said things were getting “more and more volatile” in courthouses across the state. Staff photo by Doug Harlow
The budget breaks down like this:
$4,863,215 for operations at the Somerset County Jail.
$2,188,978 for debt service on the construction of the jail.
$5,372,614 for general county spending. The tax rate charged to county towns is $2.43 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, spread across all of the towns and plantations in Somerset County.
Patrick Dolan, the county finance manager, said the overall increase of $202,689 includes adding labor and benefits for an additional dispatcher at the Somerset County Regional Communications Center in Skowhegan and a security position at the county building, which includes Superior Court, the district attorney s office, probate offices, administrative offices and the Registry of Deeds.
We ve had more and more security instances at the courthouse threatening calls and visits related to the probate court, Dolan said. Unfortunately, it is a public building, so we have anybody and everybody just walking into the building. Somerset County Deputy Mike Cray, of Palmyra, who came out of retirement, took over April 1 as the security guard at the courthouse. He sits at a desk in the corridor at the entrance to the building on High Street and has all visitors, including lawyers handling criminal cases upstairs in court, sign in on a clipboard sheet. The doors to the building at the top of the granite steps across from the old jail on Court Street no longer are in use. Somerset County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said she is happy with the proposed budget, having run a bare-bones spending program for the past few years. She said the new dispatcher fills a gap in service for emergency calls and the security guard is a welcome addition to the courthouse.
We needed it down here, she said of having a security guard for problems at the probate and district attorney offices. The sheriff kept blowing his overtime budget by having to send a man down here.
DiBlasi said Somerset s was one of the few courthouses left in Maine without a courthouse security guard. Meanwhile, she said, things are getting more and more volatile in courthouses across the state. She said people have wandered into her office from the district attorney s office, often angry about the results of decisions or proceedings in court.
It s been difficult for me to get them out of here, she said. The cost of the building security officer, including equipment and benefits, is $92,671; but the state is contributing $14,185, so the final number is $78,484, DiBlasi said. She said the guard is also on duty when the judge is present and court is in session. As for the dispatcher, the communications center was taking so many calls from both Somerset and Kennebec counties, that a 15th one, including two supervisors, was needed. Only three dispatchers were on call for any shift taking in about 225 calls a day.
We were concerned that somebody s 911 call may not get through. What are you going to do when you ve got three guys on the phone and somebody s trying to get through? DiBlasi said. So for safety reasons, we thought it made sense, based on the statistics, the ratio of calls to people and the amount of calls.
The cost of the position is about $66,000, including wages and benefits. The county budget meeting and public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 16 in Superior Court on the second floor of the county building. The county commissioners will meet after the hearing. If commissioners agree with the Budget Committee s budget, they will vote it in as the final budget. If they disagree, the package with commissioners changes goes back to the Budget Committee for a final vote. If the Budget Committee cannot muster a two-thirds majority to put its approved budget into effect for the new fiscal year, the commissioners budget takes effect on July 1.
Doug Harlow 612-2367
You hear the ticking whir of the news chopper, and then the wail of ambulance sirens. Before the audio of the 911 calls kicks in, you already have that feeling in the pit of your stomach the one you feel any time her name has been brought up in the five years since Whitney Houston died. In those years, every sordid, tragic detail of the singing supernova s death has received the kind of grotesque and arguably intrepid sleuthing one might expect in the TMZ age no salacious morsel left unpicked by the media vultures. There have been, and likely will continue to be, countless documentaries, films, and stories that parse that death. The wild circumstances invite crassness: The world s greatest singing talent, who spent as much time in her career on tabloid covers as she did on top of the charts, found dead in a bathtub at the famed Beverly Hilton on, of all times, the night before the Grammy Awards.
It s clever of Whitney: Can I Be Me,  the new documentary about Houston that premiered Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Festival, to use that horrible moment as its starting point. The death, by this point, we certainly know about. But the film is concerned with the question of what came before. Not how, but why. Why did Whitney Houston die?
Can I Be Me comes from director Nick Broomfield, whose experience chronicling the tumultuous lives of ill-fated artists includes 1998 s Kurt and Courtney and 2002 s Biggie and Tupac. Expect this treatment of Houston to generate similar interest, as well as controversy. Framing the film is previously unseen footage (filmed by co-director Rudi Dolezal) taken during Houston s 1999 world tour, her last successful outing of that scale and one she barely made it through with the toll drugs, a lack of self-care, and the power struggle between then-husband Bobby Brown and best friend, creative director, and rumored lesbian lover Robyn Crawford took on her. A wide range of people from Houston s life during that time give interviews in the film: background singers, band members, hair stylists, her bodyguard, a drug counselor, and record label executives. Houston s brothers participate, as does Bobby Brown s sister, Tina, who ends up being our (perhaps unreliable) narrator of the final years of Houston s life.
Sprinkling grains of salt all over this is the fact that Brown, Crawford, Clive Davis who discovered and mentored Houston and Houston s mother, Cissy Houston, all did not participate in the film. In fact, Houston s estate condemned the film and, according to Broomfield, even sent aggressive emails to those who did grant interviews urging them not to take part. Still, taken as it is, Can I Be Me is a fascinating look at the tensions between Houston s private and public life the struggle between what all the film s subjects claim was Houston s authentic self and the manufactured image of a pop superstar she felt pressure to uphold.
Her favorite saying was, Can I be me? says Kirk Whalum, her saxophonist on that 1999 tour. In fact, she said it so much that we had it sampled That was the conundrum. That, Dammit, I have made all this money and all these people happy and I still can t be me. The film s mission, given its subject the woman who may very well be the greatest singer of them all becomes if not ironic, then certainly very sad. It sets out to, finally, give Whitney Houston a voice.
That voice soundtracks much of Can I Be Me. Early on, there is amazing footage of her on that 1999 tour, milking the iconic pause in I Will Always Love You right before that big, rhapsodic and IIIIIII In some respects, it s glorious. In others, haunting. And yet, it perfectly encapsulates this film. There is Whitney Houston singing one of the most successful records of all time, playfully toying with the audience at its signature moment. Yet, you look at her. She s thin as a rail. She s mopping sweat that is practically pouring off her brow. The makeup is smearing under her eyes, and she s breathing dramatically. The diva is in her element, but the diva is unwell.
Nonetheless, it happens: She raises her arm, the drum beat kicks in, and out pours that climactic belt, soaring to the rafters. She kills it. Thank You! You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason
She must be doing alright, you think, if she can still do that. And maybe that s what most of those around her thought.
Maybe that s why they turned a blind eye to the drugs, dismissed her damaging relationship with Brown as passion, and didn t encourage her to follow her bliss with Crawford, who may have been one of the few people in her circle with her best interest in mind. Or maybe none of that is true, which might be the biggest flaw with Can I Be Me : its lack of authority. The stories, the backstage accounts, the gossip from all these people interviewed in the end, it all amounts to just that: gossip. Still, it s gossip that deepens your compassion for a hero of pop culture who became one of its most tragic figures.
She changed history for us, and she paid a price for it, says Pattie Howard, who was Houston s backup singer on the 1999 tour. The rest of the film is spent tallying what exactly that price was. Much time is spent discussing how much of her identity growing up in Newark, New Jersey, was given up as she ascended to the zenith of her fame, and how much the demons she fought later in life might have taken root in that upbringing.
People may not know it, but Whitney was from the hood, Howard says. They wanted to present her as the princess. That s what white America was presented. They weren t presented Newark, New Jersey Whitney.
We revisit the night when, after breaking The Beatles record for most consecutive No. 1 hits, Houston was nominated for a Soul Train Award and the live audience booed as her face appeared onscreen. The perspective of the community was that she had sold out. Her next career move was to record the more R&B-sounding I m Your Baby Tonight, a record Clive Davis reportedly didn t want but Houston insisted she make. Still, Whalum says, She, I don t think, ever recovered from it. It was one of those boxes that was checked that, when ultimately she perished, it was because of those boxes. And that was a big one. Unsurprisingly, given the dishy nature of the documentary, there is near-constant speculation about the real nature of her relationship with Robyn Crawford, her closest friend and confidante with whom she was rumored to have an affair.
Her hairstylist and friend Ellin Lavar ventures that she was bisexual. Others rule that the love between them was real, but Houston felt pressured by her religion, her mother, Davis, and her culture to deny it. So enter Bobby Brown. The stories about her fiery relationship with Brown are hardly new. The drug use itself isn t new either, with Houston having granted candid interviews about it herself. What is new, or at least partially illuminating, is the sheer level of enablement that went on around her. Many people relied on Houston for their own well-being and financial security, ranging from the record label to the friends and family she kept on her payroll and purchased cars and houses for.
And so the strong-arm rebuke David Roberts, a security guard, says he received when he submitted a concerned report following that 1999 tour is as unsurprising as it is alarming. The details are salacious: She, according to him, overdosed while filming Waiting to Exhale, smuggled drugs in her genitalia, and was completely addicted. After he filed the report, he was fired. That was the answer to the do something to help her report, he says. The film recounts other humiliating, horrific stories, like when Houston was fired from performing at the 2000 Academy Awards after a trainwreck rehearsal with Burt Bacharach in which she sang the wrong song.
There is the 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert in which she looked emaciated. I couldn t believe what I was seeing, Lavar says. I took Whitney in the bathroom. I pull her shirt up in the mirror and I say look, you re dying. She started crying. She said I know. I don t know what I do. And Tina Brown talks about when Houston moved to Atlanta in 2003, supposedly for a fresh start. Cissy Houston showed up to take Houston to rehab, and Houston attempted to crawl over the balcony of the two-story house because she didn t want to go. (Keep in mind, this is all unconfirmed.)
Years passed between each of these events, as well as her eventual divorce from Bobby Brown, which gutted her. Again, speculation: that this is what got her hooked back on crack. When a life story includes such a dark death and, as Can I Be Me certainly attests, invites such feverish gossip even from the ones who loved you most it can be hard to refocus on the simple act of celebrating, or just chronicling that life. And maybe that s the point the film is trying to make.
The ending scene is footage from a decades-old interview, featuring a very young Houston. How would you like to be remembered? the anchor asks. Houston laughs and then, presciently, responds: It probably doesn t really matter anyways because they re going to remember how they want to remember me anyway
- ^ Whitney Houston died (www.thedailybeast.com)
- ^ arguably intrepid sleuthing (www.thedailybeast.com)
- ^ Whitney: Can I Be Me, (tribecafilm.com)
- ^ we certainly know about (www.thedailybeast.com)
- ^ Houston s 1999 world tour (en.wikipedia.org)
- ^ rumored lesbian lover Robyn Crawford (www.thedailybeast.com)
- ^ according to Broomfield (www.hollywoodreporter.com)
- ^ rumored to have an affair (www.thedailybeast.com)