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Some comments I recently made … May 2021

May 19, 2021

I’ve stopped summarizing or linking to meetings, but the most recent meeting contained some prepared comments that I wanted to get “on the record.” Here they are.

In our annual board self-evaluation meeting May 13, 2021, I spoke of a “serious problem we have,” and “an elephant in the room” that we’re avoiding. I then read a version of these comments I’d prepared:

(begin comments:) “Since this is a board self-evaluation, I think our board would function better if we had some safeguards in place. They relate to recent conditions. I think we need a new protocol for board member contacts with staff. May I describe it?

“Since we have selected the superintendent to oversee all district business, and …

“Since the overwhelming majority of this board has developed extraordinary confidence in the current Superintendent’s abilities and judgment, and …

“Since we are operating at a time of intense concern, ranging from Covid to staff turnover, and …

“Since board member activity outside of formal meetings can have a powerful positive or negative effect on employee morale and performance, and when acting outside of professional norms could result in significant legal and financial liability to the district …

“Therefore, I propose we empower the Superintendent to more closely supervise and limit board member contacts with employees. These are the specifics of what I propose:

“No board member will meet with district employees without the Superintendent’s authorization.
If a meeting or visit with District staff is authorized, the superintendent may require the presence of legal counsel to assure that information requests and discussions are appropriate and in compliance with personnel policies and protect the district against possible legal claims.

“All board member requests for information will be made through the Superintendent. Any requests that would, in the superintendent’s opinion, unduly divert staff from primary-mission concerns, will require majority board approval, to the Superintendent’s satisfaction.

“These procedures, which supersede those in the Governance Handbook, would be in force for six months after adoption. At that time, they will be reviewed for possible continuance or modification.

“These procedures may be modified by a majority vote of the board at any time. A version of these procedures will be incorporated into the Board Bylaws as soon as practical.

“I think our board would function better if we had these safeguards in place. I propose we take steps to implement them at our next board meeting.” (End comments – see meeting record on Youtube for exact record.)

At a later point in the meeting (after the annual board self-evaluation had ended, and near the beginning of our regular meeting, I made a motion which I’d prepared ahead of time:

“I move we adopt the agenda but with a change. I move that we remove all opportunities for board member questions or comments, except to make motions or speak in favor or against any motion. I’ll share my reasons during debate on this motion.”

Speaking in favor (debate):
“I propose we follow strict rules of order just for this meeting as a test run, to see how it goes and evaluate it. If we like it, we can later incorporate this into our written protocols. This would address a problem we’ve had recently. Let me explain.

“I was unhappy with our last two meetings, when some of our time and attention were distracted by what I thought of as either intentional disrupting or at least grandstanding, which I define as gratuitously speaking to the public as opposed to the board. So I’d like to see if a meeting without board comments and questions functions well and meets most of our needs while avoiding those pitfalls.

“This would focus us on the purpose of these regular business meetings, which is to formally approve or disapprove proposed actions. That’s the primary rationale for why we meet.

“Here are some additional reasons I think this would help us.

  1. Proper rules of order do not provide for discussing issues except for debating motions. If you study Roberts Rules, which our rules or order are based on, you will come to that conclusion.
  2. We have been distracted and perhaps even bullied in the recent past by speeches that either did not relate to the immediate business at hand or were repetitive and abusive of the privilege.
  3. This may well make our meeting more time-efficient.
  4. Our handbook specifies on four different pages (5, 6, 8, and 15), that we are to ask questions and collect information outside (and ahead of) our business meetings. In addition, all action items come up in two separate meetings; the first time as information, and the second time for final action after debate.
  5. As public officials, we have more than enough opportunity to ask questions, express opinions, seek clarification or make statements. We can post on social media, we can issue press releases, or we can do any of activities that contributed to us getting elected.”

From → Meetings

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