SAU 55’s Coneheads of Silence
When I accepted by position on the TRSD Budget Committee, one of my stated goals was to educate the public on the budget process.
On March 11th three people wrote my name in for TRSD Budget Committee representative for Danville. Three votes turned out to be enough to get me elected. I didn’t run for the position, and I don’t expect to run for the position in three years, but I promise to do my best to make sure we spend the right amount of money on the right things while I represent you. I’ll document the term here. What I learn will be linked at the right and left. What I feel will be right here in the middle. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to email or call me.
I have also volunteered to serve on the Curriculum and Assessment Committee. I’m the ‘second’ or alternate BudCom representative to that committee and we are only there to receive information. I’ll attend every meeting and post my learnings here (I’ve already posted the block scheduling presentation).
At that time, the minutes of the Budget Committee were little more than a record of the meeting and who attended. Once I began reporting on the meetings, SAU 55 posted their ‘version of the truth’ as a rebuttal. Eventually, through coercion, I was able to get the meetings recorded. I worked hard to have budget documents made available to the public. Again, the SAU only conceded when I threatened to post the documents myself.
In the years since my term, the SAU has reconvened its Secret Society. Rob Collins’ first term was stained by the sealing of meeting minutes for 99 years…
Q. Can the board vote to seal the minutes forever?
A. While some boards routinely do this, it is not a good practice since the law does not provide for this. Instead, nonpublic meeting minutes may be withheld only until such time as the conditions which lead to the sealing continue to exist. As discussed above, the law provides specific reasons why nonpublic session minutes may be withheld from public inspection. Arguably, the subject of the nonpublic session might be one that continues to be deserving of the protection that nondisclosure to the public affords it, and thus will be withheld for many years. However, the better practice is to vote to seal the minutes with no set time period and, instead, periodically review the sealed minutes to determine if they continue to meet the requirement for withholding from the public.
Ms. Steenson’s first term was tainted with illegal meetings called ‘work sessions‘ which had no minutes and were not recorded by the SAU…
When members of a public body constituting a quorum find themselves together either coincidently or when gathering for a purpose other than discussing or acting upon a matter or matters over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power, communications between the members shall not be used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of the Right-to-Know law. RSA 91-A:2-a, II. The convening of a quorum of a public body that does not have a purpose to discuss or act on business, could easily constitute a meeting. Therefore, it is very important to limit any conversation or other communication about the business of the public body. It is explicitly improper to deliberate or act on any business of the public body. RSA 91-A:2-a, II.
Now, Dr. Metzler has decided to forego meaningful minutes. This is illegal.
e. Meeting minutes must be kept and must include:
(1) The names of the members present;
(2) The names of people appearing before the body;
(3) A brief description of each subject discussed; and
(4) A description of all final decisions made, including all decisions to meet in non-public session. “Final decisions” include actions on all motions made, even if the motion fails. A clear description of the motion, the person making the motion, and the person seconding the motion should also be included.
What are these people doing that must be hidden from public scrutiny? I wasn’t in the nonpublic session for which the minutes were sealed for 99 years, but it followed ICE notification that a middle school gym teacher and girls soccer coach had admitted to downloading child pornography. I did attend the ‘workshop’ which included a recommendation by Ms. Steenson that the SAU hire a PR firm to sell higher budgets to the ‘cheapskate’ voters. We all know Dr. Metzler is spending a LOT of money and that his posse has been taken to task by the ACLU for violating the constitutional rights of citizens of the district. More recently, meetings have included censures, intimidation, and threats to people who do not go along. It’s more difficult to spin these things when there are public records.
I think you will better understand the value of sunshine laws when you get your tax bill in November. Merry Christmas.
Though the minutes to the 8/28/2014 meeting have not been posted, you can watch the video of the meeting here or read the article Arthur Green and Cathleen Gorman sent to local papers here. They project Danville’s tax impact at 9.1%!
Note the School Board’s near unanimous opposition to holding the Deliberative Session on a Saturday! At 2:05:00 the discussion begins. Town deliberative sessions are held on weekends so that people who work out of town (like me) and people who have to arrange for child care can attend. The SAU holds their deliberative session on a work night so that people who work out of town cannot easily participate.