By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Charlie Mott was tired of waiting. First of all, he didn't see why all the families at the Future Farmers of America facility in the Alief Independent School District had to be locked out of the barn over Christmas break just because some people weren't taking care of business by leaving gates hanging open.
He spent the weekend hauling his daughter and her heifers to two different shows, and they'd done fairly well. She was even reserve breed champion in one ring. He was ready to unload and be done with it on that Sunday night of January 4.
But the gates were locked and they weren't able to raise agriculture adviser Mark Peak on his pager or cell phone to come unlock them. Following printed district policy, they called the Alief ISD police department, but a person there said they weren't unlocking those gates anymore. Finally, they reached Harvey Willis, another ag instructor, who came out to open up.
There was still one more hurdle. Ron Kelly, another parent, had his little red Dodge Dakota truck parked right in front of the barn, while he was inside with his stepdaughter. Willis went to ask Kelly to move the truck, but nothing happened.
Mott and Kelly weren't best pals, having had at least a couple of earlier exchanges. Mott's daughter Michelle chalks it up to a basic personality conflict; the two men just seemed to grate on each other. Mott stayed outside the gate with his truck while his wife, Debbie, and Michelle went inside.
"Mr. Kelly was being rude and uncooperative" to Willis, Mott says. After 20 more minutes, Willis left and Mott was still sitting outside on the road. Finally Kelly got in his truck, put it in reverse and waited for Mott to move. Mott got madder; he says he tends to be "a little hot-headed" and Kelly was "pushing my buttons."
Mott whipped his truck and trailer around Kelly's Dakota. As he pulled forward, Kelly pulled forward. There was some shouting back and forth. "My vocabulary had not been the politest," Mott says. Mott blocked Kelly from the road and Kelly raced around him through the mud on his way to exiting the facility.
But not for long. Another student, upset and frightened by the shenanigans of the two grown men, had called the school district cops.
On Monday of that week, both men were called to the principal's office and told by Taylor High School Principal Manette Schaller that they were banned from the FFA barn.
This was devastating news for Charlie Mott. He loved working with his daughter, passing on his knowledge from growing up around ranches in Oklahoma. He and his wife began a series of appeals to the district. When Michelle's breeder cow, Alice, became sick with milk fever days after giving birth to twins later that month, district officials gave Charlie an exemption so he could administer Alice some of her injections. He was allowed to stay on the premises only long enough to deliver the shots at a prearranged time. She pulled through.
But when Alice got milk fever again in early April, Charlie didn't get back in, leaving it to his wife and daughter to nurse her back to health. After four excruciating days, the cow died on April 7.
Right now there are three main things sticking in Charlie Mott's craw.
One is a dead cow, a cow he figures wouldn't have died if he'd been by its side.
Another is Ron Kelly, who Mott says has been back on the FFA property, while Mott remains barred, and who even got to chair a fund-raising event for the FFA in May.
The third is, of course, a district that won't let him appeal his punishment and, according to his reading of its rules and regulations, isn't following its own written procedures.
Charlie Mott may not be the most easygoing fellow in the world. But that doesn't mean he isn't right.
Even before Charlie Mott and Ron Kelly decided to redefine the FFA as the Fighting Fathers of Alief, Mott had not done much to endear himself to district administrators. As soon as daughter Michelle joined the program as a freshman in fall 2002, Mott began noting safety and equipment concerns.
And while all school districts trumpet the need for parental involvement, the reality is that few educators or administrators want their shortcomings pointed out to them, their decisions questioned.
And by golly, Charlie Mott was a questioner.
First of all, he said he was afraid that Alief had stolen property from another district, wanting to know what a trimming chute he'd given to Mayde Creek in the Katy ISD was doing over at the Alief barn. That sparked a series of e-mails culminating with Thomas Brawley, Alief's coordinator for Career and Technology Education, telling Mark Peak to get the chute back to Katy. Peak had been an ag instructor with Katy ISD before coming to Alief.
Mott questioned Peak's job performance, complaining that he was spending a lot more time with other students than with Michelle. Peak and other ag advisers receive an extra $4,000 a year to help students with their FFA projects. Mott says that Peak denied any favoritism.