Since publishing the story below, the following statements have been disputed by an attorney for the subject of the story, Michael Rood:
1) “Alexandria Melchior thought of Rood as her advertising representative at the paper and had been meeting him regularly for at least a year.... He usually came during schooltime hours.”
The Reader has been informed that Ms. Melchior realizes that she was mistaken and that it was not Mr. Rood that she had been meeting with. Melchior has provided the Reader with a statement saying she had not met with Mr. Rood before the article was published.
2) “‘When I complained, someone at the paper called back and said they had fired him.’”
The Reader has been informed that Rood was not fired, but was re-assigned duties.
3) Quoting KOGO talk show host, Steve Yuhas, “There were several emails about ads that the principal sent from his school district email address.”
Mr. Rood’s attorney advises the Reader that this statement by Yuhas is not true.
4) “The evidence showed, said Yuhas, that on school time the principal had been negotiating ad prices for an adult gay magazine, discussing editorial matters, and representing himself as an ‘associate publisher’ of the publication.”
Mr. Rood’s attorney advises the Reader that this statement by Yuhas is not true.
Last summer, a Gay and Lesbian Times advertising salesman was calling on businesses in Hillcrest. Mike Rood often visited two of his accounts on Fourth Avenue. Arrivederci Ristorante bought an occasional ad whenever he happened by. But across the street, at the Bambu Bistro, owner Alexandria Melchior thought of Rood as her advertising representative at the paper and had been meeting him regularly for at least a year. “Then he got a little flaky on me,” Melchior says. “One day he didn’t even show up for an appointment. When I complained, someone at the paper called back and said they had fired him. They said he was the principal of [Mark Twain High School in Linda Vista] and that they had informed the San Diego Unified School District about what he was doing on the side. I was horrified. He usually came during schooltime hours. Not long afterward, people from the district started calling and asking me questions about him.”
This account suggests that staff at the paper were also taken aback by Rood’s being a school principal. But almost a year earlier, on November 3, 2006, the Gay and Lesbian Times had reported that Rood and the paper’s publisher, Michael Portantino, had adopted a baby girl. The story was accompanied by a photo of the new parents with the baby and Portantino’s teenage daughter. Is it conceivable that Rood never informed the publisher of his primary occupation?
In the meantime, KOGO radio talk show host Steve Yuhas reported on his December 28 and 30 programs that the school district was investigating the principal’s activities. A teacher at the school, said Yuhas, had contacted him about it anonymously. Yuhas said he then received additional evidence from other confidential sources. There were several emails about ads that the principal sent from his school district email address. And Yuhas said he found the principal’s Gay and Lesbian Times business card tacked to a bulletin board in the paper’s offices. The evidence showed, said Yuhas, that on school time the principal had been negotiating ad prices for an adult gay magazine, discussing editorial matters, and representing himself as an “associate publisher” of the publication.
Especially appalling, argued Yuhas, is that Mark Twain High, where the principal works, is a school for troubled kids. The school’s website identifies Mark Twain as a “special counseling-oriented school” and shows that it offers a “GED [general education development] preparation class” as well as “pregnant minor” and “school-aged parent and infant development” programs.
Yuhas editorialized further on his show’s website in the following days. Through an attorney, wrote Yuhas, the principal has the gall to insist “there is no investigation; but a source on the school board told me otherwise. Sources tell me that [the principal] plans to play ‘the gay card’ if he finds himself in trouble with the school district. I disagree with gay protections that are similar to racial ones,” wrote Yuhas. “What happens when someone who is gay is really wronged? It is bad enough that the kids at this school are troubled anyway (they even have a day care center), but the man in charge stays in his office during an investigation about his work. Special treatment for a gay principal? Looks like it, because a straight one would be on administrative leave by now — but not this guy and that is a problem for the parents and kids at Mark Twain school.”
It is noteworthy that Yuhas, who on his show speaks openly about himself being gay, never mentioned the Gay and Lesbian Times or Mike Rood by name. Perhaps he wanted to steer clear of further controversy in that paper. On August 1, 2004, Yuhas wrote a Union-Tribune editorial critical of San Diego’s gay pride parades. They are excessive displays of gay activism often sponsored by bathhouse owners, he wrote. Four days later, the Gay and Lesbian Times countered: “When this self-loathing, Ozzie-and-Harriet-wannabe gets his Fruit of the Looms in a wad over shirtless men gyrating on floats … one has to wonder if Yuhas is falling asleep on the couch too many nights with Fox Network News blaring in his ears.”
Recently Yuhas has opined on his website that being gay and holding conservative principles are a natural combination. What if Mike Rood had sold Gay and Lesbian Times advertising as a second job on his own time? Perhaps a more permissive commentator might then support it as exercising rights of free speech. But not Yuhas. During his December 30 KOGO program, he argued that the free gay publication the principal worked for is pornographic. That’s not because of its artwork or editorial content but because it sells pornographic advertising, according to Yuhas. And even though the high school principal may have sold ads only to restaurants, as “associate publisher” he should have known the kind of publication he was pushing.
Others are bound to disagree about whether the Gay and Lesbian Times is pornographic. Its parent company, Uptown Publications, Inc., does publish Rocket Magazine, a more sexually explicit free paper supported by local advertising. But no one has accused Rood of selling its ads.
What does the Mark Twain High School community think about Mike Rood’s extracurricular work? He does have supporters. But critics suspect that that’s because Rood has the power to reward teachers with overtime, they say. District principals are supposed to hand out overtime assignments only as a last resort. “But if the district looked into every principal’s assignment of overtime,” one source tells me, “that’s all they would be doing.”
Several sources acknowledge that in the last six months district officials have questioned a number of teachers at Mark Twain High about Rood. The use of overtime pay is one aspect of his behavior that the district wanted to know about. Two others are his work for the Gay and Lesbian Times and what some claim is retaliation by Rood in getting teachers transferred to other schools.
The Gay and Lesbian Times has not tipped its hand on any plans to take Yuhas to task again. But the paper did hint it might have something to say about the Mark Twain principal’s investigation by the school district. After I called to ask about Rood’s current employment status with the paper, Portantino wrote me the following in an email: “The Gay and Lesbian Times does not make public comment on potential news events that we have not yet published.”
A significant news story now would be what the San Diego Unified School District plans to do about its investigation of Rood. So far it isn’t talking. Some teachers at Mark Twain High are not happy about that.
They believe that it is inappropriate for a high school principal to work for a gay and lesbian newspaper that sells sexually explicit ads. But has the district decided those teachers have been on a witch hunt? Or that Rood’s behavior didn’t rise to a level requiring disciplinary action?
I asked an experienced principal in another school district about the appropriateness of Rood’s outside work. “Schools nowadays comply with laws that allow students to have gay clubs on campus,” he told me. “Employees have to have corresponding protections. I don’t see how a district could legally punish a working principal for affiliating with a gay magazine. Whether it’s pornographic would raise another issue. But his doing the work on school time and using school computers would show a definite lack of good judgment. Principals have to use their judgment every day on both large and small issues.”