MEMPHIS, TN - A Memphis School Board member under fire, accused of offering her charter surrender vote for a more powerful political position, is firing back at her accusers.
MCS Commissioner Stephanie Gatewood sat down with abc24.com on Saturday, January 22nd, to categorically deny the allegations against her. She also plans to sue the Shelby County Commissioner who made them.
"He has accusations," says Gatewood. "I have facts."
Gatewood is ready to go toe to toe with Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland. In a sworn statement sent to the Shelby County District Attorney this week, Roland accuses Gatewood of offering her vote in exchange for an appointment to the District 98 seat left vacant when State Rep. Ulysses Jones passed away.
"I can tell you today," Gatewood tells abc24.com, "that I'm absolutely excited this is now in the hands of the district attorney."
The veteran city school board member says she has evidence that proves two Shelby County Commissioners tried to bribe her. That's something she hinted at on December 20th, moments before she cast a "yes" vote to give up the district's charter.
"I have been threatened," she told the packed auditorium that night, "by fellow elected bodies, attempting to force my hand on a certain vote."
The evidence she claims to have is multiple text messages on her cell phone. She wouldn't show abc24.com the actual messages, but did reveal their content.
"One said, 'does this mean you're not going to abstain'," Gatewood says. "And that clearly tells you there was a conversation going on. The other text message said, 'just for the record, I didn't try to threaten you with a vote.' And the other message was, 'just because someone says they won't support you if you vote a certain way, that isn't a threat.' I'm going to let all of those texts be in the hands of the district attorney."
The county commission never did appoint anyone to temporarily fill the District 98 seat, deciding instead, to leave it up to Memphis voters. Gatewood lost the special election on Thursday to firefighter Antonio Parkinson. She tells abc24.com she does not intend to lose the battle with Terry Roland.
"Once my name is cleared," she says, "I'm absolutely demanding a public apology from Mr. Roland, not that he'll give it. Furthermore, I am seeking defamation charges against him because he's absolutely trying to assassinate my character."
On Friday, after the DA's office received his sworn statement, Commissioner Roland told abc24.com, "I'm not making any comments until the district attorney's office completes its investigation. I'm going to let the wheels of justice turn. I'm just trying to do what's right. I'm going to let them check it out."
He did not return reporters phone calls and messages Saturday when asked to comment about Gatewood's plans to sue him for defamation.
A spokesperson for the Shelby County District Attorney's Office says they are reviewing Roland's statement and have not decided if an investigation is warranted.