Chariho School Parents’ Forum

September 17, 2007

Things that make you go “hmmm”

Filed under: 5th & 6th grade,executive sessions — Editor @ 8:27 am

On Thursday, September 13, the Westerly Sun ran an article titled, “Does Chariho board member’s Web site spill closed-door beans?

This article discussed the March 26th executive session meeting, placed on the agend by Superintendent Barry Ricci.  He scheduled this meeting because he felt I had challenged his integrity with a letter in the Sun – a response piece to his letter that said the research on grade configuration was inconclusive.

In this WS article last Thursday, the reporter said –

According to March 27 regular session minutes, the executive session was held about 6 p.m., prior to other agenda items. All 11 committee members voted to enter executive session and keep the exec­utive minutes closed in accordance with state law.

 I have not bothered to check the minutes – but I was there as were some of you.  When the meeting was called, Giancarlo Cicchetti read from the Open Meetings rule book and explained how the meeting was a violation.  Deb Jenning, never the less, made a motion to go into exec session and the majority of the board voted for it.  Mr. Cicchetti and I did not.

I left a message at the Sun for Mr. Ryan on Thursday and the corrections desk soon after.  To my knowledge, no correction has been published.

Perhaps the minutes reflect something different than what actually happened, I don’t know.  I do know that I have told anyone that asked what the vote was.  

I’ll dig up the minutes of both meetings and post soon.

[UPDATE] I forgot to explain what the alleged violation was.  The following note was included in an email to the press on March 26, 2007.  The quote came from the March 27 meeting agenda. 

Scheduled for Executive Session is “Character of Superintendent.”  Quote: “Given Bill Felkner’s concerns about my character and integrity (as detailed in his letter to the Westerly Sun), this item is on the agenda at my (Superintendent Ricci) request.  It will provide Bill and other members of the Committee an opportunity to comment in an appropriate forum.”

 

************

According to the Chariho board, sharing this information was a violation of the Open Meetings law.

 

[UPDATE] Duh! (i teach my kids not do say that, but I can say it to myself here).  It just dawned on me.  The exec session mentioned in the article was at 6:00.  I think the one in question may have come later – I really need to dig up those minutes – maybe tonight during the game.  If there were two XS that night, that would explain the confusion – although that meeting (if different) didn’t have anything to do with the context of the article – Stay tuned…

 

[UPDATE the UPDATE]  I had a good conversation with the V.P., Editor of the Sun (Raymond Lamont) and we seem to come to the same possible conclusion – the XS mentioned in the article was the early session, the session related to the story came later – this is supported with Councilperson Capalbo’s comment.  I have a call into the AG’s office and will verify my understanding of the Open Meeting laws – specifically on when I can release the minutes.

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9 Comments »

  1. The Westerly Sun has a lot in common with the satirical Onion, except the Onion writers are purposely false, while The Sun staff is simply incompetent and/or biased.

    A real newspaper would have had an article titled – “Does Chariho School Committee and Adminstration Hide Behind Closed Doors?”

    Clearly an executive session used to discuss a committee member’s contrary opinion about grade configuration belongs out in the public square. Especially when the opinion is representative of the vast majority of voters. Mr. Ricci and his cohorts hide the truth about the negative effects of Chariho’s grade configuration, and The Rag ignores their distortions.

    I was unable to access Mr. Ryan’s article since I won’t throw my money away, and the article is no longer available for free, but I usually find I don’t have to read The Rag to know already that the story is full of holes and is a one-sided view of the facts.

    Keep communicating with the public Mr. Felkner. You obviously make the local power institutions very uncomfortable.

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 17, 2007 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  2. CR,

    I’m not making that claim. I have gotten quite a few questions about this and (related) the ProJo article (http://www.projo.com/ri/charlestown/content/SC_CHARIHO_FELKNER14_09-14-07_NP74AFA.354f3e5.html)

    I’m just sharing what happened. Perhaps the minutes say something different or perhaps there was just a miscommunication somewhere. But people wanted to know what it was about and what was the alleged violation. Which I forgot to mention so will include with an update.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — September 17, 2007 @ 11:45 am | Reply

  3. I didn’t attribute any claim to you, did I?

    Let’s see if I got this straight:

    Mr. Ricci wrote a letter to the paper asserting that Chariho’s grade configuration was appropriate and not proven damaging to children?

    You, Mr. Felkner, wrote a letter contradicting Mr. Ricci’s claims?

    Your position represents the majority of voters and parents?

    Mr. Ricci then took offense to your letter (and perhaps tone) and asked for his character and integrity to be discussed in closed session?

    So why is a discussion of Mr. Ricci’s character and integrity not suitable for public ears? More importantly, and I think this applies to many (if not all) executtive sessions, is there discussions of the underlying issues, i.e., grade configuration?

    This is my biggest problem with Chariho School Committee’s use of closed meetings. I’m worried that the discussions are not limited to the specified topic and the public is missing out on much information which should be presented out in the open.

    I also believe that the discussions that take place at these closed meetings are supposed to become part of the public records once the topic has been resolved…yet I don’t recall this happening…am I missing it?

    As for The Sun, the issue of closed meetings should be more a matter of public interest than the matter of committee member being too open with the public. How often do we hear the media complaining about governnment secrecy, yet here we have our local media putting greater focus on the inappropriateness of public discourse rather than the inappropriateness of government secrecy. Says a lot about The Sun and its biases.

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 17, 2007 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

  4. Mr. Cicchetti read from the Open Meeting rulebook stating that the meeting was a violation. I don’t exactly recall, and don’t hav time to track it down, but something about Mr. Ricci not having the authority to call for an exec meeting.
    http://www.sec.state.ri.us/pubinfo/openmeetings

    Regardless, the meeting wasn’t about him – it was an opportunity for Bill Day, Andy Polouski, Terri Serra and Andy McQuade to forcefully “ask” me not to write letters to the paper any more. I’ll find the minutes when I can – although, I did have to ask for info to be put in the minutes and I don’t have the updated version. It is available from the school. And you are correct, closed session minutes become public once the issue is resolved and 30 days have passed, or until the next meeting, whichever is sooner.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — September 17, 2007 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  5. Hi!
    I will not discuss the specifics of this case.
    The bigger question is can an official either elected (town council or school committee), or appointed official (building committee,and various boards and commissions) publicly disagree with a school district or town empoyee?It would seem they should be able to.
    The bigger question is when is a person’s integrity attacked? Certainly it should not be when you disagree with them even in public.Staff members such as Supt.of Schools work at the behest of elected officials frequently and those officials are accountable to the electorate.That is why we have elections.Elections allow the public to influence government by voting for persons who they want to make government decisions.I understand only Providence in Rhode Island has an appointed school committee.All others are elected.
    The real concern is this:You can find experts in various fields that will have different professional opinions.To what extent do elected and appointed officials have the option to consider a vast array of opinions or just limited to one? Ideally they need the flexibility to have the ability to enact those decisions they believe in,work out with others,and conform to law.
    Do not forget the Hopkinton Town Council meeting tonight (Monday,Sept 17TH),.Tomorrow (Tuesday,September 18TH), evening at 7:00 PM, I will be sworn in with other district officers at the Ashaway Fire District Officers at the Ashaway Fire Station.
    Last night I saw the publication concerning the building proposal.It should have been a benign publication.It’s style is that of a political campaign publication.It asked a series of questions with an answer.It should have just laid out the facts like the benign mailings the Rhode Island Secretary of State sends out abour referendas before they are voted on.Just the facts!The publication implies that most Town Council members endorse the referendum.Traditionally town council members approve a referenum so voters can vote on it regardless of what they personally think.It will be interesting how much political capital the three area Chariho town councils will expend on this referendum.
    Regards,
    Scott

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — September 17, 2007 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

  6. Exactly my point. Mr. Day, Mr. Polouski, Ms. Serra and Mr. McQuaide should not be expressing their desire for you to stop writing letters (or communicate with the public on this website) in a closed meeting. Their request is clearly something the public can, and should, hear. I consider Mr. Ricci’s request to discuss his character and integrity a ruse to get the overall discussion behind closed doors.

    As I suspected, and predictably, these closed meetings are used by politicians to give themselves cover. I doubt these people would be so quick to ask you to give up your First Amendment rights if they knew we were all watching them make asses of themselves.

    Are the minutes of closed meeting made available on the internet? Do the minutes cover the discussion well enough to know what was actually said and discussed?

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 17, 2007 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  7. Bill,

    The comment from Mr. Cicchetti concerning the legality of executive session was done at the end of the meeting. My recollection from being there was that the two of you did not vote to go into the session, however, you both entered the group, you did not leave at that point. I must assume that would be because other things -litigation, contracts – may have been discussed as well. Although I can be wrong here – the minutes were sealed.

    I believe the violation was that Mr. Ricci cannot call a meeting concerning himself. It must be called by a member of the Board.

    Comment by BarbaraC — September 17, 2007 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  8. Is there anything oversight of close meetings? Any investigative body to ensure that the law is not being violated? When a committee member themselves, in this case Mr. Chiccetti, questions the legality of a closed meeting there should be a mechanism in place to invalidate the claim or to validate the claim and punish those responsible for breaking the law.

    Seems to me that the Chariho School Committee routinely uses closed meetings to subvert public oversight and knowledge. Do they do so without fear of recrimination?

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 17, 2007 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  9. […] has done this when I disclosed the agenda for the March 27 executive session and he has done this by saying the minutes are “sealed.”   And it was also said […]

    Pingback by “Sealed” versus “Closed” « Chariho School Parents’ Forum — September 21, 2007 @ 11:52 pm | Reply


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