Monday, April 27, 2020

Two school board members using personal email

Even since Hillary Clinton got caught using a private email server for official business, the country has held an opinion that "official" business ought to be conducted on "official" email accounts.

Why? Because the unofficial emails are hidden from public view.

Before moving to South Carolina in 2014, I raised this exact issue in Illinois, when certain members of the Woodstock (Ill.) City Council were using personal email accounts for official business.

I attended a training for appointed and elected public officials that was conducted by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. Since I was not an appointed or elected official, I held my questions until the officials had asked all their questions. And then I asked about use of private email accounts for handling official business.

The trainers from the AG's office said that should not be done.

After the meeting, the trainers thanked me for my good questions. I appreciated that.

Right here in the Richland 2 School District, there are two people on the board who use personal email addresses. One is Trustee Monica Elkins-Johnson, whose email address is "".

The other is Trustee-elect Teresa Holmes, whose email address is "". I write "Trustee-elect", because Holmes has never legally taken the oath of office after filing her Statement of Economic Interests Report on December 4, 2018.

Apparently, the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA) believes it is okay for a school board member to use a personal email address.

Well, it's not. And the reason it is not, is because there is no guarantee that such email correspondence will be found in response to a FOIA Request to the School District. Only if ALL the emails are on the School District's email server is there a greater assurance (still not perfect) that a FOIA response will be complete.

Even if a board member agrees to comply with a FOIA request, could there be a Hillary Moment. Of course, there could.

More importantly, what about after that board member's term has expired? If Elkins-Johnson or Holmes leaves the school board, how will she preserve ALL the school-related emails?

The answer? She won't. With one click, she can delete that email account and the entire history will be gone. Later she can say, "Oops." But those emails will be gone.

Now is the time for a Board Policy that requires all school board members to use a District-server email account for all school board business.

Is there a Board member who will request such a new Policy?

OK, I'll get the ball rolling. I, as a member of the public, will request this issue be placed on the Agenda for a Regular Meeting. SEE Board Policy BEDB - Board Agenda. "Items of business may be suggested by board members, staff members, or the public."

"State of Emergency" - Really?

The Richland 2 School Board is using the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency as its pretext for holding its Regular and Special Meetings via Zoom; i.e., away from the prying eyes of the public.

Telecasting the meeting is not the same as having the public and the press right in the same room, where the audience can keep an eye on the entire board (including grimaces, body language, side conversations, use of cell phones).

What is a "state of emergency"?

Using the language in the City of Columbia's Code (ART. II, Sec. 31), it is "A state of emergency shall be deemed to exist within the city whenever, during times of great public crisis, disaster, rioting, civil disturbance or catastrophe, or for any other reason, municipal public safety authorities are unable to maintain public order or afford adequate protection for lives, safety, health, welfare or property."

In Richland County, THERE IS NO "great public crisis, disaster, rioting, civil disturbance or catastrophe". Not even in the State of South Carolina.

And what makes Columbia's ordinance, or at least part of it, unconstitutional is the wording "or for any other reason". 

The City of Columbia could presumably declare a state of emergency if Mayor Benjamin got a hangnail. Assuming he could bully a majority of the City Council into agreeing with him. 

A dangerous part of the state-of-emergency ordinance in the City of Columbia is this section:
During the existence of a proclaimed state of emergency when a curfew has been defined and imposed under the provisions of this article, it shall be unlawful for anyone subject to curfew to:
Be or travel upon any public street, alley or roadway or upon public property unless such travel is necessary to obtain medical assistance;
Possess off one's own premises, buy, sell, give away or otherwise transfer or dispose of any explosives, firearms, ammunition or dangerous weapon of any kind; ..."

So, just when law-abiding citizens might need self-protection away from home, the City of Columbia says it is illegal.

See you in court, buddy.

So the pretext (state of emergency) for closing off a Richland 2 board meeting is false, and the public should protest loudly about it.

4/28/20 Meeting Time Corrected

The District's announcement regarding the April 28, 2020 Regular Meeting of the school board has been corrected pertaining to the starting time. The Executive Session will begin shortly after 6:00PM and the Regular meeting will resume at 6:30PM.

The location of the Regular Meeting is not shown in the April 28th updated press release, nor is it shown on the Agenda. The Board apparently plans to meet only via Zoom, effectively eliminating the public and the press from attending the open meeting.

While the announcement states that the meeting will be conducted via Zoom, it does not state that the meeting will not be held in the open and at the regular meeting location, which is at R2i2. Very likely, it will be held entirely remotely, with each board member "attending" from his or her remote location.

The announcement by the District reads, "Due to the restrictions on public gatherings, the meeting will be held using the “Zoom” online meeting platform. The public will be able to view the meeting at"

The District has failed to explain the "restrictions on public gatherings". Exactly what are they?

When the South Carolina Governor imposed restrictions on groups of more than three people, here is what he had in mind. According to The State newspaper on March 23, 2020,

“It would apply to parties on the beach, to boisterous gatherings or concerts, to spontaneous gatherings or unruly gatherings in shopping centers, parking lots,” McMaster said. “Those are the kinds of things and we have all seen them.
The order does not apply to is [sic] law-abiding businesses or employers, McMaster said."

NOTE: "The order does not apply to is (sic) law-abiding businesses or employers, McMaster said." (emphasis added)

Richland 2 School Board could meet in Open Meetings at R2i2 and employ seating with social-distancing. But it chooses not to. This violates State law.

And, by meeting remotely, the District also violates the requirement that a quorum be present. For Richland 2, a quorum is five. (There are only five legitimate board members; Trustees-elect McKie and Holmes have never legally taken the oath of office.) While the law apparently does not say that a quorum must be present in person, it does not say that it need not. And that's important! It is understood that the quorum must be present in person.

Except that Richland 2 School Board chooses to "interpret" the law, rather than follow it.

Should Richland 2 be following the law - exactly?