Chariho School Parents’ Forum

November 30, 2007

“There’s no reason tri-town taxpayers shouldn’t get to see deal they’re about to pay for”

Filed under: contract negotiations — Editor @ 11:07 pm

I am sure most of you have heard about Tuesday’s meeting by now.  Specifically, how the board killed discussion of the email Superintendent Ricci sent out after the bond failed.   Simply put, Bill Day told me to make a motion and then we would have discussion – once I made the motion, Andy McQuaide “moved to question” seconded by Andy Polouski, and no discussion was allowed.  It all happened very quickly.  It looked planned to me, but maybe I’m biased.  Plus, planning is not illegal if not done with a quorum.  Fool me once… 

But what you didn’t hear is also important and it was mentioned today in the paper.

“There’s no reason tri-town taxpayers shouldn’t get to see deal they’re about to pay for”  That was the title of today’s editorial in the Westerly Sun.  The editor called for the Chariho Board to release details of the support personnel contract to the public before the board approves it (once ratified, it is a legal contract).

 As it’s now scheduled, the new contract will not be made public until after the staffers have ratified it and the new deal goes to the school board for final approval. That should leave … oh… a half hour or so for any interested taxpayers or town officials to read it, digest it, decide whether it really is a good deal – and then pre­pare to offer comments and concerns to a board that, by Tuesday’s votem, is really already committed to approving it.

That, folks, is an absolute travesty – and it is a format that, once and for all, should be changed within the Chariho Act, and on a statewide basis.

It is indeed a travesty.  God forbid the people paying the bills get to have a voice in the process.  But its not a matter for the Chariho Act or even a statewide issue.  It is a choice made by the school board.  There are no laws requiring us to withhold the information and there are no laws requiring closed meetings for negotiations.  Just as it should be.

You elect representatives to represent you.  You don’t need someone in Providence saying how someone should represent you.  If you want to watch them negotiate a contract or just see it before they lock it in, why don’t you let them know. 

They have heard my voice – have they heard yours?  Why don’t you contact them?

Back to the editorial: 

 What makes this scenario all the more maddening is that the School Committee has 11 days to let the taxpayers of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton see the contract they’ll likely be paying for over the next three years, yet is essentially choosing not to do so. Last month, when we urged the board to let taxpayers see the school district’s offer – to see precisely what the union was turning down – the committee could at least use the excuse that talks were still ongoing, even beyond the tentative agreement. Now, even that excuse doesn’t hold water.

During Tuesday’s Executive Session, I made a motion to release the contract to the pubic while we waited for the union to vote for ratification.  Only George Abbott and I voted yes.

You didn’t even know this vote happened because we don’t report what we are voting on, or how individual board members voted.  We should.  Here is the law:

§ 42-46-4  Closed meetings. – (a) By open call, a public body may hold a meeting closed to the public upon an affirmative vote of the majority of its members. and a statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed, shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.

(b) All votes taken in closed sessions shall be disclosed once the session is reopened; 

But at least we announce the vote right?  We say, “a vote was taken, it was 2-6-3”  But that’s not exactly proper either.

 § 42-46-7  Minutes. – (a) All public bodies shall keep written minutes of all their meetings. The minutes shall include, but need not be limited to:

   (b) A record of all votes taken at all meetings of public bodies, listing how each member voted on each issue, shall be a public record

Of course, as with all law, a term like “specify the nature” is subjective and must be tested. 

PR 06-16 Parks v. Cumberland School Committee

 and it suffices that the Personnel Sub-Committee’s agenda violated the OMA by failing to provide an adequate statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-6(b). 

880 A.2d 784; Tanner v. The Town Council of East Greenwich 

we hold that the requirement that a public body provide supplemental notice, including a “statement specifying the nature of the business to be discussed,” obligates that public body to provide fair notice to the public under the circumstances, or such notice based on the totality of the circumstances as would fairly inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed or acted upon. Although we recognize that this standard is somewhat flexible and we decline to provide specific guidelines or “magic words,” such an approach accounts for the range and assortment of meetings, votes, and actions covered under the OMA, and the realities of local government, while also safeguarding the public’s interest in knowing and observing the workings of its governmental bodies.(fn15) 

But good lawyers know the law and don’t let their clients get into trouble.  Unfortunately, Chariho has been in trouble before.  Who remembers Hirst v Chariho School (1999) – we should all be thankful for people like Scott Bill Hirst who go through the effort to hold public officials accountable.

And if memory serves (but I’m sure our attorney knows this) Chariho was told that if it violated the law again it would be considered a “willful violation.”  But I suppose one excuse could be ‘I didn’t violate the law the same way.’

Although, I’m not even sure a vote like the one on Tuesday is an executive session item anyway.  That’s not their fault – they didn’t know I was going to make the motion (unless they read this blog).  But perhaps the discussion could have been moved to the open meeting.

§ 42-46-4 Closed meetings. – (a) By open call, a public body may hold a meeting closed to the public upon an affirmative vote of the majority of its members. A meeting closed to the public shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by § 42-46-5

§ 42-46-5 (2) Sessions pertaining to collective bargaining or litigation, or work sessions pertaining to collective bargaining or litigation.

Although, this is the tricky part.  Is someone wanted to restrict access to information, they could cover a lot of information as being open to “litigation.”  But an administration and board that wanted to be “proactive” with transparency would probably err on the side of the public.  Right?

Since the bargaining was over, a vote to release the information might not fall under this section.  But, I suppose this is minor. 

I would assume that Superintendent Ricci passed this by the solicitor (I know he consulted with the solicitor before calling for the March 27 exec session – which makes me wonder, does the solicitor work for the board or the superintendent?  but I digress). 

Apparently, we interpret the above information differently.  I suppose they might consider this posts a violation of the Open Meeting Act.   Is it? 

All executive session minutes are public documents.  So if you want to see them, just ask the school.

§ 42-46-7  Minutes (c) The minutes of a closed session shall be made available at the next regularly scheduled meeting unless the majority of the body votes to keep the minutes closed pursuant to §§ 42-46-4 and 42-46-5.

We did NOT vote to keep the minutes closed.

All that being said (and sorry for the long read), it just seems that our administration and board that claims to be “proactive” in transparency doesn’t seem to ‘err on the side of the public’ when it comes to interpreting the law.

I will give the board a few props for making a small step in the right direction.  On Tuesday we approved a letter to the Board of Regents giving suggestions for future contract negotiations.  The Chariho board approved sending a letter supporting the release of a fiscal impact statement prior to contract ratification.  The board did not approve support for open meeting negotiations.  One out of two is not bad.  But we will have to wait and see if Chariho actually does it or just gives the suggestion to someone else.

PS.  Now that you know the law, go back to the March 27 meeting and read what the school was saying.  Remember, I was accused of violated the law by Andy McQuaide, Andy Polouski and Bill Day but no charges were filed.  And the post that was supposedly a violation is still up.

Oh yea, there was something else in that closed session on Tuesday.  What do some on the Chariho board and the NEA have in common?  Anyone want to ask for the minutes?

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14 Comments »

  1. First let me say that The Westerly Sun should be commended for being on the right side of this issue.

    Most of all, Mr. Felkner, Hopkinton should unanimously vote for you for any elected position you ever seek. Even if people don’t agree with you on all issues, no one can truthfully say you keep anything from us. You put it out there for all world (and citizens) to see. Thank you for your efforts to keep us informed.

    A huge thank you to Mr. Abbott as well for his defense of democracy behind closed doors and in front of television cameras. Ever since the bond vote, Mr. Abbott has found a voice and I couldn’t be more pleased. Like Mr. Felkner, we might not always agree with him (he did support the lousy bond), but at least he isn’t hiding from us.

    Boos and hisses to Mr. Petit and Mr. Pruehs for voting to keep the contract secret and deny those of us paying the bills a legitimate opportunity to comment on how you are spending our money. Those voting to keep the contract from the public should move to China…you’d fit right in there.

    I have a funny feeling Hopkinton is going to get screwed over again when the contract is revealed. I think the School Committee knows they gave away even more of our children’s future to a greedy union (and their family and friends). For anyone supporting the bond, remember that it was created by these same people who spend our money like drunken sailors and then don’t even have the decency or integrity to be honest with us.

    Keep up the good fight Mr. Felkner. I don’t know how you do it, but there are many in Hopkinton who owe you a heck of a lot even if some of them don’t even know it.

    Comment by Curious Resident — November 30, 2007 @ 11:55 pm | Reply

  2. As I feel compelled to remain anonymous, I am unable to get the minutes to any of the closed meetings, but I would be very interested in reading them here if anyone is able to obtain them.

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 1, 2007 @ 12:03 am | Reply

  3. I’m not sure if this is relevant to the trick the Stalinists pulled at this week’s School Committee meeting, but it may come in handy if they try to kill debate in the future.

    Previous Question
    This motion is basically a call to vote immediately on the current
    topic. Assuming everything goes smoothly, this shouldn’t be a
    necessary motion. However, nothing ever goes smoothly. This motion
    is an indication that the body believes the conversation is no
    longer productive and that further debate would be a waste of time.

    Now, that sounds pretty contentious, and in practice, it can be.
    However, in practice, it would seem that the body as a whole has a
    good sense of when something has and has not reached a point where
    no further debate is necessary. Often, this motion is a formality,
    because most of the body agrees that a decision needs to be made on
    this topic. Other times, this can be used as an attempt to ram
    through a proposal without adequate debate.

    That’s why this motion requires a supermajority (2/3) affirmative
    vote.

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 1, 2007 @ 1:29 am | Reply

  4. where did the super majority come from?

    Comment by Bill Felkner — December 1, 2007 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  5. It very disheartening to read about this. They also tell about it on town website. I know we are trying to put everthing into the public on the ad hoc group for bringing back fifth and sixth graders. Sometimes you might miss things but I know if anybody asks me for information and I have the information I would never vote to keep it secret. This is against the values of the United States.

    Barbara Capalbo if you read this my 7 year old daughter went to her first basketball practice today. The name of her team is Light Resource and Design. Thank you for supporting the recreational program in Hopkinton! My wife is the coach of the team. She also coaches a team in the oldest league for my 17 year son. And I coach the under 14s for my 13 year old son. My wife is a much better coach than me. The boys don’t have a team yet so I can’t thank those businesses, but I’ll try to remember to come here and thank them.

    Please let us know about the contract. Thank you.

    Comment by Jim LaBrosse — December 1, 2007 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

  6. Mr. McQuaide made said he’d “like to move the motion”. This terminology does not exist in Robert’s Rules of Order from what I can find.

    Subsequently, Mr. Day clarified when he called it “moving the question”. The actual term is “move the previous question”. This motion is not debatable, as Mr. Day said, but it requires a 2/3 majority to pass otherwise discussion continues. With 11 members present, they needed 8 votes to end discussion. They kept Mr. Ricci’s out of the public discussion, but they cheated to do it. Is anyone surprised?

    http://fnnc.org/robertsrules.html

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 1, 2007 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  7. CR can you let me know also where this super majority vote comes in? I know to have Informal Consideration of move that the assembly go into “Committee of the Whole” it needs the 2/3 vote you are talking about but I can’t find where it says that youo ned 2/3 or super majority vote to Move the previous question. I am not saying you are wrong either, I just didn’t see it anywhere and feel if we are doing wrong than it needs to be corrected.

    Comment by Bob Petit — December 3, 2007 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  8. http://fnnc.org/robertsrules.html

    I found it at the website linked above. Assuming it is accurate, Mr. Ricci’s procedural trick was implemented unethically. If Mr. Day and Mr. McQuaide knew enough to pull it off as quickly as they did, and Mr. Day correctly knew that the motion does not allow for debate, then I am certain they also knew that a 2/3 majority is required for it to pass.

    Funny how they chose to ignore the rules when it worked against them…huh? Shame on you for going along with the game and not allowing for a discussion…especially if the discussion was unethically killed. To add more to the School Committee’s repeated disrepect for the public, you even have The Westerly Sun calling for you to release the contract for public review. The same newspaper that routinely ignores the undemocratic behavior of the School Committee. Imagine how anti-democratic you must be if even The Sun feels compelled to say so?

    How a Hopkinton member of the School Committee can align himself with the forces that do so much to harm Hopkinton is beyond me. Thank goodness for Mr. Felkner and Mr. Abbot…I haven’t gotten a read on Mr. Pruehs yet, but Mr. Petit continues to be a major impediment to improving accountability and results at Chariho.

    Here’s another website referencing Robert’s Rules where it says a 2/3 majority is required to pass a motion to move the previous question.

    http://www.robertsrules.org/motions.htm

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 3, 2007 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  9. Here is another web link regarding Roberts Rules of Order:

    http://www.albanylaw.edu/media/user/sba/roberts_rules.pdf

    Comment by Lois Buck — December 3, 2007 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  10. Bob and Curious and anyone else who could add their interpretation of these resources, Read pages 6 & 7 to the above link.

    Bob, thanks for continuing the debate.

    Curious, I appreciate your time in researching these topics.

    Comment by Lois Buck — December 3, 2007 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  11. Since Mr. Petit was part of the group that unethically killed debate over Mr. Ricci’s emails with political officials, wouldn’t it be a stand-up thing for him to add a similar discussion to the next agenda? If he wasn’t in on it and was simply played for a fool by Mr. Day and Mr. Ricci, then it would seem appropriate for him to make amends in this way.

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 4, 2007 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  12. I think it would be good for the school committee to create a policy for any superintendent or his administration, now or in the future, regarding scheduling of meetings with the member towns’ officials. I believe any letter to the member towns from the superintendent’s office be emailed to all the committee members.

    The school committee has a charge to care for our interests with these schools. That’s why they are elected, they represent us. How can they do this to the best of their ability if they are in the dark to the superintendent’s meetings.

    Bob, you were angry when you found out about the emails. What would change your mind? Why would you not want to know about someone’s efforts to circumvent your charge to care for our interests regarding Chariho?

    It is sad that the superintendent should have to set up meetings with the town council presidents. I believe that the committee members should be liaisons between their councils, and that a council member or two should be liaisons with the committee. The fact that the superintendent should need to do this is disappointing, as this is an example of poor communications.

    What say you?

    Comment by Lois Buck — December 4, 2007 @ 1:01 am | Reply

  13. Frankly there should be no secret plans and meetings for bonds, Building Committees, contracts, or anything else where it is other people’s money being discussed. If they are spending their own money, then fine, they can meet until their heart’s content, but as long as they depend on our money to fund the empire, then I want honesty, accountability and responsibility. Why hide from the public unless you’re doing something wrong?

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 4, 2007 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  14. […] Chariho where the AG’s office ruled Chariho had violated OMA).  It might be a good time to review a previous post with more information – such as a court case that spells out the extent executive session votes […]

    Pingback by Transparency is a four letter word at Chariho « Chariho School Parents’ Forum — February 10, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Reply


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