Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Public Participation - on the way back?

At last night's school board meeting (June 30, 2020) Trustee Agostini mentioned that she had requested the Board Chair, James Manning, to add an agenda item to address rescinding the suspension of Board Policy BEDH - Public Participation at Meetings.

Although it has never officially been notated as suspended, the Board did eliminate Public Participation at Meetings on May 12, 2020. Before the board voted, Amelia McKie said it was temporary. No, it wasn't.

The Motion was not worded as temporary, and the Chair should have corrected her. But he didn't. And it wasn't. The Board voted to suspend BEDH. That eliminated the public's speaking at meeting. And it eliminated the public's opportunity to request items to be added to an agenda.

Last night Agostini said she had requested this topic to be added to to the agenda, and her request was denied. Mr. Manning acknowledged that he had decided not to include that item.

Later in the meeting, when it came time to approve the agenda for the next meeting, the Motion was made and seconded to approve the agenda. Then Mrs. Agostini made a secondary motion - to add the rescinding of BEDH to the agenda. The staff secretary worded it as "unsuspend" the policy (BEDH).

The secondary motion passed, and then the primary motion was voted on and passed.

At the July 28, 2020 board meeting the board will discuss this item. Of course, the public will not get a chance to give input before the board votes.

THEREFORE, the public (that's You) should call your favorite board member(s) and ask them to vote in favor of "unsuspending" (rescinding) the suspension of Board Policy BEDH.

When you call, give them your reason(s). And ASK them how they will vote. Then check up on them after the meeting and learn how they, in fact, did vote.

If Zoom meetings continue, it is simple for the Board to hear from the public. All any speaker has to do is email the District (contact to be provided later) and request to be added as a speaker. Then log onto Zoom and into the meeting. The District's meeting controller will call on you when it's your turn, and you'll bet your three minutes.

The Alexandria (Va.) City Council held a contentious meeting on a Saturday, and there were many public speakers. And it went like clockwork. The mayor announced the name of the next speaker and said, "followed by (name), (name) and (name)". Speakers nailed it on three minutes. The mayor thanked the speaker and introduced the next speaker "followed by (three names)". This meant the following speakers were queued and ready to speak.

How many in the Zoom audience? 854

Last night's audience for the June 30, 2020 school board meeting probably surprised everyone.

When the meeting started (officially) at 4:32PM, there were 110 online, as indicated by the counter at the upper left of the screen. The board quickly adjourned, as scheduled, to Executive Session.

When the open session reconvened at 5:00PM, there were 332 present.

At about 5:10PM, it was announced that the Board had lavished the superintendent with an Overall Distinguished Evaluation and extended his contract by a year to June 30, 2024. By that time there were 573 attending.

During the discussion prior to voting on the superintendent's evaluation, Trustee Agostini commented on how she had been treated by the superintendent following her resignation as Secretary in the spring of 2019. She commented that he had been inequitable and unprofessional in his manner toward her. Readers can look back to previous blogposts that examine why Mrs. Agostini resigned. Her integrity and high standards were the basis of refusing to attest to illegal signatures on, and statements in, official bond documents. (Following her resignation, James Shadd was appointed Secretary and quickly signed the same documents with the discrepancies uncorrected.)

And then the vote was taken on his evaluation: 6-1  Thank you, Mrs. Agostini, for being willing to speak up and say the important things that need to be said.

The Zoom audience reached a peak of 854 last night.

Transparency by the School Board. Really?

During last night's school board meeting, there was a perfect opportunity for transparency.

During the COVID-19 report by the superintendent, he could have mentioned the number of COVID-19 cases identified among students and staff of Richland 2.

As part of his COVID-19 report on May 26, 2020, the superintendent informed the board that no student or staff member had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

As many know, Columbia is a hotbed of new coronavirus cases.

At 4:29PM yesterday (one minute before the start of the board meeting) District 2 sent out a press release that Dr. Davis had been tested on Sunday and had received news that this test was positive.

Not a word during the meeting. He could have disclosed that during his COVID-19 report or during his superintendent comment at the end of the meeting. HIPAA protections didn't apply, because the District had already released his statement to the press.

At least one trustee (Holmes) noted that she knew he wasn't feeling well, so there was a clue that the board already knew about it. They would have been told before the start of the Zoom meeting or during Executive Session (although it wasn't on the Agenda).

Somewhere during the meeting the superintendent even used the word "transparency" among his many, very long remarks. Well, maybe it's really just a 12-letter word that sounds good during meetings of public bodies.

Officers for 2020-2021

At last night's final school board meeting for the 2019-2020 school year, the board elected officers for the school year starting July 1, 2020 (and ending June 30, 2021).

Chair - James Shadd
Vice Chair - Teresa Holmes
Secretary - Cheryl Caution-Parker

Each was the sole nominee for the office.

What are the problems?

For James Shadd.

According to a June 11, 2020 article in The Independent Voice of Blythewood & Fairfield County newspaper, "A Richland Two school board member has racked up more than $57,000 in county and state tax liens since 2012." That school member is James Shadd.

The Voice identified these six liens as still active:

  • December 29, 2014—$11,659.01
  • March 23, 2017—$2,573.92
  • March 30, 2017—$6,587.40
  • April 12, 2019—$10,055.91
  • April 12, 2019—$7,331.91
  • May 8, 2020—$11,958.62
For Teresa Holmes.

Holmes has never legally taken the oath of office as Trustee. She was elected on November 6, 2018 and took the oath of office - illegally - on November 13, 2018 and was allowed to begin serving on the school board. The problem is that she was not eligible to take the oath on November 13, 2018, because she had not filed her Statement of Economic Interests with the S.C. Ethics Commission.

She filed that SEI on December 4, 2018, and became eligible on that date to take the oath of office. She has not done so. Therefore, she has never become a legal member of the school board. She was ineligible to be elected for the 2019-2020 term of Vice Chair. She was re-elected, illegally, last night to the officer's position.

For Cheryl Caution-Parker:

Does she has the critical-thinking skills and backbone to stand up for her legal responsibilities as Secretary of the School Board? This means, among other things, reading the Minutes with a critical eye and calling for corrections as needed. She served as Secretary in the 2019-2020 school year and did not once do so. It also means paying close attention to the wording of motions, names of persons making and seconding motions, and voting record. Accuracy is the responsibility of the Secretary, even though it is the notetaker's (recording staff secretary) duty to prepare the Minutes.

It also means reading carefully every legal document that she is asked to sign on behalf of the school district. When she "certifies" a document, her signature is more than merely witnessing the signatures of the Chair and Superintendent. 

Will she pay closer attention during this school year?