Monday, March 17, 2014

Naming names

From the March 11, 2014 ICCSD board meeting. (Transcript below.)

The proposal to regulate public comment at school board meetings seems to be motivated in part by a discomfort with any criticism that is directed toward specific people. When a member of the public starts to criticize specific board members or administrators by name at a board meeting, it’s as if a taboo has been broken. General criticism is one thing, but naming names goes too far. It’s the quickest way to tell the troublemakers from the team players.

Our school board’s chair, for example, has regularly prefaced the public comment sessions of board meetings with this warning:
We ask that you refrain from making personal or disparaging remarks about staff, students, or any other district personnel. Please keep your comments focused on programs and policies, not people, or you will be asked to stop immediately.
This norm against naming names is probably great for preserving peace and harmony when you visit your relatives at the holidays, but it’s not a recipe for good government. Keep in mind that district “staff” includes the superintendent. On its face, the chair’s first sentence prohibits any disparaging comments about the job performance of the superintendent and other central administrators charged with running the school system—though it does not prohibit favorable comments about them. The chair’s second sentence says that you will be asked to stop immediately if your comments are focused on “people”—which, of course, describes not only staff but elected board members as well.

But policies and practices don’t just materialize out of thin air. People make them. Voters seldom get to vote on policies or practices; they vote for individual people who run for the school board, which in turn hires the superintendent. If voters can’t connect policies and practices to actual people, they have no way to hold anyone democratically accountable for what happens in the school system.

The video above is a good example. During the discussion of the proposed public comment policy, one board member asked, “Who wrote the policy?” Another board member explained that “it showed up” at a committee meeting. The rest of the group fell silent. Then one administrator said he didn’t remember writing it, though he remembered that the district’s lawyer somehow “looked at it” before it was drafted. Then another administrator said that he worked on it with the administrator who doesn’t remember writing it—all because “it was asked for.” Good luck figuring out who initiated that policy.

At the most recent board meeting, the chair did not recite the usual warning before the public comment session. I don’t know what accounts for the change, but it’s a step in the right direction.

A transcript of the video appears after the jump.

Tuyet Dorau: So you’re the chair of the policy and engagement committee, and this came under your watch. So who wrote the policy?

Brian Kirschling: It showed up at the first policy and engagement meeting of this year.

Dorau: Who wrote the policy? Does anybody know?


Dorau: That’s a problem.

Sally Hoelscher: I have not . . .

Superintendent Steve Murley: I know that initial conversations about the policy were with Joe [Holland, the board’s legal counsel], in the room—I don’t recall who wrote drafts of it, as it went through, but I know he looked at it prior to actually being drafted, and I think that some of the comments that I read [earlier in this meeting] were part of that dialogue that we had with him about that at that time, too.

Dorau: So it was written by administration?

Murley: No, I don’t believe we wrote it, I—to be honest with you, I don’t recall.

Chief Human Resources Officer Chace Ramey: Yes, it’s true. Tuyet, yes, yes, a conversation that came back to us, and Steve [Murley] and I worked on it, after some conversations with Joe, and it was put together then, and sent back as it was asked for.


Karen W said...

Thought you might enjoy Catherine Johnson's description (at Kitchen Table Math) of "badgering the superintendent for a straight answer" as a 21st century skill that doesn't get much attention.

You might also find this related post about administrator accountability--superintendents managing boards rather than boards managing superintendents--interesting too.

Julie VanDyke said...

So I have to ask, why isn’t any major media coverage of this looking to find the answers. We ALL need to look at this event, on video, sans all of the pitfalls listed above and ask ourselves, are the board members acting with integrity in their role as board members when they don’t tell the truth, even if it’s just the part they know for sure. Of even more concern to me, and a perfect example of the corruption of truth and representation of any possible form of honesty and responsibility on her part, why did Marla Swesey, our former board president current board vice president, who brought the near-final draft of this POLICY they continue to pretend are just “Guidelines” to the Policy & Engagement Committee in her own hands sit there silently, not admitting that when Tuyet Dorau asked that question.
Based on first hand viewing of the clip above, I believe we have to seriously question the integrity of the superintendent and the entire board, with the exception of Tuyet Dorau, who posed the question, and Patti Fields, who was not present at the meeting. Even Chace Ramey (sole individual to break rank by contradicting Murley’s Reagan-like excuse that he couldn’t remember but it wasn’t from administration) who publicly then admitted he and Murley had written the “Guidelines”, he still conspired to perpetrate a fraud on this district. The superintendent may be asked by the board to make a “recommendation” for the board to then consider and discuss during a board meeting. That is NOT what happened. What appears, based on what Murley and Ramey said, is that the superintendent and HR Lawyer/District Spokesperson conspired to MAKE and write policy in place of the board, then pass it off as board developed, in an absolutely unacceptable reversal of roles. 5 of 7 board members then, as I see it, tried to perpetrate a fraud on the community that the “Guidelines” were developed in committee. The FACT is that Marla Swesey brought the near final draft of the mysterious “Guidelines” to the Policy & Engagement Committee already written. When asked where they came from, she said she thought they came from Steve Murley. Every P&E committee member, most of all Chair Kirschling, failed due diligence in approving policy out of committee which they barely edited, none of whom would admit facts, when a director asked outright during a board meeting, where, who, or how it “just appeared”.
When Superintendent Murley, Directors McGinness, Swesey, Hoelscher, Kirschling, and Lynch were asked who wrote the policy and NONE answered honestly and forthrightly with everything they each know, we can no longer trust them to tell the truth, period. They are each now as integrity-challenged as McGinness and his 3 ethics violations. If we can’t trust 5 directors and superintendent to tell the truth when legitimately asked during a board meeting, we have a REAL CRISIS of CONFIDENCE. They have not conducted themselves in their roles according to board ethics policy requirements of them. Any that lied, even by silence or omission, should resign NOW! An emergency election and superintendent search are justified NOW!

Julie VanDyke said...

Trying to shut Phil Hemingway and I up is NOT a new thing at all...we both reference it for specific reasons happening as early as the time of this interview in May of 2012 (we had both run for school board in the prior election in summer 2011). Phil then ran again in the last election held summer 2013. Both times he barely lost a seat on the board by but pretty much a handful of votes. Had the public really understood the issues and Phil's comprehension of them and the district history, instead the voters that valued a candidate's ability to play nice and "get along" over Phil's honesty, full grasp of the issues, and strong sense of "fiduciary responsibility" he would, and should, have won both times.

The entire interview is 29:50 minutes with the reference to already ongoing attempt to shut the public up specifically discussed approximately starting around 15:00 through 17:10

The link is here:

Julie VanDyke said...

"...and then it was sent back as it was asked for."

1) imagine the following in very, very large bold letters because it still hasn't been answered and the public has a right to know

Douglas D said...

I'm troubled that no one either knows or wants to take responsibility for having proposed, sponsored, or written this. Congress, dysfunctional as it may be at the moment, at least requires you to sign your name to legislation. And Mr. Murley's outright lie that he had nothing to do with it bothers me. But what strikes me as most telling is the "as was asked for" which seems to indicate that a Board member requested it. And that would make the most sense, as school administrators should have very little invested in the language used at a Board meeting.

Julie VanDyke said...

Yes Douglas, a board member(s) are more than likely the "as was asked for" and considering who brought the policy to the committee meeting initially, it's most likely Marla Swesey. Also, as Murley meets with the P and VP of the board (Hoelscher and Swesey) separately from the rest of the board prior to each board agenda posting for example, I would guess a nice FOIA of their emails around that time would tell us much more than either of them even hint at knowing in answer to Tuyet's clear question at this meeting during the amazing 1:19 minutes provided in Chris's blog. Of course, neither Marla nor Sally mentioned any of that in answer to any of Tuyet's questions or the discussion of the magically appearing near final-draft policy at the Policy and Engagement Committee which Brian Kirschling chaired and attended as well. Marla was asked where the policy came from during that meeting and initially attributed it to Steve Murley though she later tried to backtrack, in that same committee meeting, to further dilute the "truth".

Julie VanDyke said...

It's back on the agenda for today's 5:15 Policy & Engagement Committee

Julie VanDyke said...

The policy is back on again for the Policy and Engagement Meeting tomorrow at 5:30 at the ICCSD Administration Building. Did you know they're proposing to cut public comment on all individual agenda items and just allow folks a chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting once each, if you are so lucky hahahahahahaha. Yes, please do come and witness the decimation of the public's ability to provide direct input before agenda items are voted on by our board that professes to care what the people think, well, some people anyway. I'd suggest you email them about this now since so many of them have recently stated in open public meetings that they base so much of their opinions on the emails they receive that they seem to be saying tell them the public wants less public them all here: -OR-