Chariho School Parents’ Forum

February 1, 2008

NEA complaint continued (part 2)

Filed under: transparency,Unions — Editor @ 5:27 pm

From the Chariho Times:

  Felkner’s comments will cost school district   

By JAMES MADDEN  WOOD RIVER JCT. – Information provided by Chariho School Committee member Bill Felkner on his website “Chariho School Parents’ Forum” may cost the Chariho School District hundreds of dollars in legal fees.  

“It will cost the school district,” said Chariho School Superintendent Barry Ricci at last week’s School Committee meeting.   

Last September, Peter Gingras – the lead negotiator of Chariho’s 164-member support-personnel union – filed a complaint with the Rhode Island State Labor Relation Board against the Chariho School Committee. Gingras – who works for the National Education Association/Rhode Island (NEA) – alleged that Felkner illegally negotiated with the union, on an individual basis, by posting information on his website on the union’s previous pay raises and benefits. 

Contract negotiations between the school committee and union came to a conclusion two months ago when a new deal was struck between the two parties.  Gingras’ complaint states that, “On or about Sept. 17, 2007, and on dates thereafter, an agent of the Chariho Regional School District has purposely attempted to communicate directly with bargaining unit members directly represented by the union. The purpose of these communications was to discourage union membership and is tantamount to a refusal to bargain with the certified representative of the union.” 

After the complaint was filed, the labor relations board put the complaint in abeyance, but Ricci said the complaint is going to be heard by the labor relations board.  As a result, the School Committee voted 5-2-1 to ask Felkner – who was not at the school committee meeting – to put a disclaimer on his website indicating that his personal views are not representative of the school committee as a whole.  

Richmond School Committee member Terri Serra made the motion and said, “I heard there was a disclaimer on this website. I have not been able to find it.” Charlestown School Committee member Giancarlo Cicchetti said, “I don’t think that as a School Committee we have any power over Mr. Felkner… We can’t instruct him to do anything.”   

Ricci said the school district will have to pay its solicitor $135 per hour to represent the school district in this matter. He said the case could last a day, or weeks.  Felkner said Gingras is required to explain how the posting of information on his website was equivalent to negotiating directly with the union.

Felkner said Gingras hasn’t yet explained this to the school committee or the labor relations board.  “I still haven’t been notified as to what the complaint is,” Felkner said. 

Consequently, Felkner said that it’s unnecessary for the school district to litigate until Gingras comes forward with a specific complaint.   

Ricci said, “I believe he [Gingras] has given partial explanation,” to the labor relations board.    

In other business: Bond The school committee again supported a revote of the $26 million Chariho bond to renovate and improve the Switch Road campus.  The school committee specified that they would support either a two-way or three-way split bond.    

Chariho Act     The school committee voted for the tri-town solicitors to review the newly drafted Chariho Act.  “This has been an incredibly complicated process taking into account 22 years of amendments and changes,” said Ricci.  Let unresolved at the meeting was who will pay the legal fees for the town solicitors to review the act?  The school district is hoping it’s going to be the towns.   Splitting the Bond Ricci indicated that the Chariho Building Committee, who were the architects behind the recent Chariho bond building plans, are going to have a say in how the bond is split, if that happens. 

 Chariho School Committee Chairman Bill Day also said, “I think the school committee should be involved in how this bond will be broken down.”

[UPDATE] Mr. Ricci has informed me that Mr. Gingras has presented some information to the LRB but I still have not seen anything.  I’ll make sure to share it when I get it.  It is odd that the complaint was placed in abeyance so as to allow us time to resolve the problem, but Mr. Gingras would not tell me what he objected to, so we couldn’t work on anything.  When I asked for the information – he refused to provide it.

For the record (and Mr. Ricci knows this) I told them that I believe this is a frivolous complaint just to give the board a reason to keep me off the negotiations committee.  Knowingly or not, Mr. Ricci appears to be playing into it.  Of course, compared to what the NEA assistant directors do, I’m a kitten.  Our friends at Anchorrising have all that and more.

 PS>  Regarding Mrs. Serra’s concerns – over on the right column – where it says “What is the Chariho School Parents’ Forum” is a disclaimer that has been up since Dec 1, 2006.  I’m sorry she was unable to figure out where that was.



  1. How does Mr. Ricci know that a “some information” has been provided? Is it common for a superintendent to be told that “some information” has been given, but not be told what the information is? Who told Mr. Ricci some information has been given?

    I’m curious if The Chariho Times reported on the thousands of dollar (I think I heard $78,000) Chariho paid to a family of a Special Education student? Did the $78,000 include the legal fees or was this just the settlement?

    Can Chariho countersue for the frivolous nature of a complaint?

    Mr. Felkner and the rest of the School Committee do not lose their 1st Amendment rights because they serve an elective office. I wonder if Chariho’s teachers mind the cost they are paying for Petey’s time filing frivolous complaints?

    I wonder why The Times didn’t seek comment from Chariho’s union? I know I wouldn’t my dues used to try and stop someone from exercising their Constitutional perogative.

    Considering Mr. Felkner is the only member of the School Committee to regularly communicate with the taxpayers, this is one more attempt to make Chariho less transparent when they should be making efforts to be more transparent.

    Unions are notoriously communist-type organizations, so the behavior of their leadership doesn’t surprise me, but I would hope the teacher members would have greater respect for the Constitution.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 1, 2008 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  2. Everyone should click on the link provided by Mr. Felkner. The president of the NEA is caught in a digital picture flipping off the Superintendent of Tiverton’s school system. Way to go teachers…you should be proud of your “leader”. An excellent example for Rhode Island’s school children.

    The teacher who heads Tiverton’s union has this to say, “It is regretful communication has deteriorated to this level. We have been going through very difficult and very frustrating attempts at negotiating with the school committee. When First Amendment rights are violated, things can get heated.”

    Apparently Rhode Island NEA values their First Amendment right to make obscene gestures at school officials, but they do not support Mr. Felkner’s First Amendment rights to keep taxpayers informed.

    The link also provides a list of tactics used by Rhode Island NEA to pressure communities and School Committees into giving up the farm in contracts. Here’s a couple that we should note:

    10. Maintain a constant pressure on the opposition.

    11. If you push a negative hard enough and deep enough, it will break through to its counter side.

    12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

    13. Pick the target opponent, freeze the issue, personalize the issue and polarize the issue.

    Keep in mind that these are the people who represent our public school teachers. Our teachers that rabid and viscious that they accept this type of leadership?

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 1, 2008 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  3. That frivalous complaint is laughable.

    Comment by Totally Amazed — February 2, 2008 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  4. I expect that Mr. Felkner, as a committee member, is covered by Chariho liability insurance (“officer and director” insurance or its governmental surrogate) for his actions as a committee member and the district is obligated to defend his actions, since he is a legal representative of the district.

    That does limit, in my opinion, his absolute freedom of speech and restricts his behavior, because he certainly could do or say things to damage the district (I’m not claiming that in this case), which would then be compelled to defend itself and him.

    Comment by david — February 2, 2008 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  5. Is your “opinion” supported by legal precedent? Does an elected official have their First Amendment rights limited?

    Regardless, we’ve heard he “negotiated” with a union member on this blog, and I’ve never seen it, and nothing is cited. Seems like it would be extremely easy to quote Mr. Felkner if he had attempted to negotiate with a known union member here?

    We know that the majority of the School Committee and Mr. Ricci vehemently oppose Mr. Felkner informing the public and expressing his opinion. I believe many in the old media are threatened as well. This accounts for almost entire newspaper article being dedicated to a frivolous charge with minimal cost liability, while the loss of $78,000 in taxpayer money in a settled lawsuit is largely ignored by Mr. Ricci and the local media.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 2, 2008 @ 1:15 pm | Reply

  6. CR, I do not know what that $78k is for. Maybe legal fees, maybe settlement. I was given the figure by someone involved in one of the cases. I asked Ricci for the invoices from the attorney during that time (a time when the legal fees tripled for the year). I received them but all the names were blacked out.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — February 2, 2008 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

  7. Do you know if these legal expenses were ever reported in the news media?

    The Chariho Times dedicated quite a bit of space to the possible legal costs for an unsubstantiated union complaint against you. I would imagine that $78,000 in legal fees and settlement costs would very newsworthy?

    An unbiased and competent news organization should be very curious about the nature of the lawsuit. Why was Chariho sued? If Chariho settled, why? We certainly wouldn’t want Chariho to be susceptible to more legal jeopardy, right?

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 2, 2008 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

  8. Mr. Felkner is and should be held to state law. He is not free to mention items discussed in executive session, if the minutes to that session are sealed. Other than that, he does have freedom of speech and should be allowed to express his opinions. As a member of the School Committee, his behavior though should be held to a high standard. What I’m not sure about is if any of this applies in this matter. I’m not a Bill Felkner fan, but I will say sometimes his intentions are good but I question the tactics and methods used. I wish it wouldn’t be so adversarial.

    Comment by CharihoParent — February 3, 2008 @ 7:04 am | Reply

  9. Sure, everyone should follow the law. Executive Sessions should not be held unless absolutely necesary, and when they are held, nothing should be discussed that belongs in the public forum. Mr. Felkner has revealed information from Executive Sessions that should not have been discussed in secret. Is it “illegal” to tell us about “illegal” activites that occur in Executive Sessions?

    I believe the School Committee and Chariho’s administration routinely relies on Executive Sessions to keep information from public scrutiny. As Tiverton’s School Committee demonstrated, contract proposals can be reviewed by the public even during negotiations. If this were illegal, the entire Tiverton School Committee would be in jail.

    Not only does Chariho’s School Committee and administration choose to not inform the public about contract proposals, they refuse to share even after they have reached a tentative agreement. The latest contract was shown to the public only hours before it was approved by the committee. Even after it was approved, Mr. Day and Mr. Ricci tried to hide it. Why? I can only conclude that they don’t want us to have any input or knowledge on how our money is spent.

    There is a lot of vagaries in the laws, and School Committees seem to have the option of operating transparently or secretly, without legal consequnces either way. Mr. Felkner chooses to conduct public business openly, the rest choose to hide. I know which choice I prefer and appreciate.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 3, 2008 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  10. I find Mr. Felkner refreshing and wish he was a representative of the Tri Town I lived in. I’ve been to a meeting before and one of the female members was looking around after the hands were up and joined what was then a majority vote. Either uninformed or clueless to what was being voted on. I find that dangerous. I don’t always agree with Mr. Felkner but must say its not an emotional opinion by him but backed by information. If I take a moment and self reflect, maybe I don’t agree with his information because it doesn’t support or reflect my personal bias. Then again from what I read here and comments reflect a ‘barking at the moon’ back by no information or facts he’s probably right more 95% percent of the time. I’d probably guess more but I will assume he’s not perfect.

    Comment by Totally Amazed — February 3, 2008 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  11. If the minutes for an Executive Sessions are sealed, yes it is “illegal” to talk about “illegal” activities. Once again, an old saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. There are ways to reveal supposed illegal activities, do things the right way, not the wrong way.

    Comment by CharihoParent — February 4, 2008 @ 4:11 am | Reply

  12. Well if it is illegal and someone broke the law in such a public manner, I’m sure law enforcement will handle it appropriately. Just like they do when Executive Session are used illegally to keep information from the public.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 4, 2008 @ 9:23 am | Reply

  13. CR, dosen’t matter what you think or how you feel. Bill voted with the rest of the committee to keep the negotiations private until the contract was ratified. Did he reveal any information? I don’t know, but it is now for the lawyers to figure out. I think we all learned something about transparency through the negotiatons of the support contract. But that doesn’t change the fact that Bill voted to keep the negotiations sealed and when you do that you are obligated ( like it or not) to keep it sealed. I am; like Bill interested to see what it is that was said. I don’t recall him revealing anything myself. There is a fine line when dealing with some of these issues again, whether we like it or not.

    Comment by Bob Petit — February 4, 2008 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

  14. Bob,
    I believe CR’s point was that anything done illegally and in public, law enforcement can handle. Conversly anything done illegally and not in public, cannot be handled by law enforcement entities unless brought out into the public sphere by the person or persons involved or discovered by other alert citizens.

    Comment by BarbaraC — February 4, 2008 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

  15. That’s precisely what I’m saying Mrs. Capalbo. If anyone publically broke the law, it is there for us all to see. Mr. Felkner puts his views here for us all to read. Mr. Petit has the opportunity to read here. The entire School Committee and adminstration can read I assume? Did they see any negotiations going on with individual union members? It’s not a difficult question. Who’s the union member?

    We also know the union has unethical tactics they use. I cited some here from their handbook. For Chariho’s adminstration and School Committee to go along or pretend these allegations have any validity is foolhardy and one more example of their incompetncy and willingess to capitulate to the union. It is illegal to “chill” free speech, and spurious and frivolous charges are one way to chill free speech. Will Mr. Ricci and the School Committee show the same concern about a real crime as they wet their pants over a nonexistent illegallity?

    The School Committee is more than willing to concede thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits, but when the union uses intimidation tactics to keep the public in the dark, the fools act so concerned that they may have to spend a few hundred dollars to defend unsubstantiated charges. I believe they detest Mr. Felkner’s openness and honesty with the public. They see the union’s silly charge as an opportunity to intimidate Mr. Felkner too.

    As for records being sealed, I wonder if it worse to commit a crime or to hide a crime? I’m not sure why or for how long records are sealed, but if the sealed records cover up illegalities, then I’m all for them being unsealed. If sealed records main purposes is to hide information from the public, the people who pay the bills, then I hope all honest politicians speak out regardless of the consequences.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 4, 2008 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  16. Hi!
    A complaint filed DOES NOT MAKE IT VALID! It will be interesting in learning the legal aspect of this situation with Mr.Felkner. It is an undeniable fact Mr.Felkner is undeniably at this point a highly motivated, intelligent, school committee member. I am curious how the suggestion Mr.Felkner was trying to have contract talks with union members on this web site can be substantiated.
    The Hopkinton Town Council meets tonight but I plan to go to a state GOP meeting tonight in Cranston.

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — February 4, 2008 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  17. I think Mr. Ricci negotiated with a union member. I think that as he was passing a custodian in the hall he whispered, “Hold out…the School Committee’s about to break.”

    My unsubstantiated claim has more validity than Petey’s claim. In the case of the charge against Mr. Ricci’s, who’s to say?

    But in the charge against Mr. Felkner, we are all here and the history remains. Where is there one scintilla of evidence that Mr. Felkner negotiated with an individual union member on this website?

    Maybe The Chariho Times will now write an article on my silly claim too? Maybe the School Committee will publically fret about having to spend legal fees to defend Mr. Ricci against my nonsense? Somehow I doubt it.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 4, 2008 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  18. Dumb me, I simply did not know it was “illegal” to post previous pay raises for a public employee sector. WHEN did THAT happen?

    Comment by Dorothy Gardiner — February 6, 2008 @ 11:07 am | Reply

  19. Here is the dummy again! Does this mean that NEXT year we can’t look at this years contract and negotiated raises and benifits?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Comment by Dorothy Gardiner — February 6, 2008 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  20. Hi!
    Pay raises I believe are public information including public employees.I will stand corrected if I am wrong.The Westerly Sun did a series on recent memory on what people make.
    At this point, I am more interested what is the correct boundary line between an elected official making comments on contract talks. It appears at this point this is NOT the case in the Gingras complaint.

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — February 6, 2008 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  21. Bob, I did not vote to keep the minutes sealed – Plus I voted during the negotiations to not go into executive session. Obviously, I was outvoted.

    Executive session minutes are NOT automatically sealed forever. They become public info once the issue is settled (at the following meeting they become open). “Sealed” minutes must be sealed by an explicit vote. We used to vote to seal as a matter of practice. If you recall a few months ago, I made motions to stop doing that and now we must vote seperately (which is what the rules say we should have been doing all along – raising the question if they were legally sealed in the first place).

    Comment by Bill Felkner — February 6, 2008 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

  22. As for the complaint – I may not reward someone for leaving a union and I may not punish someone for joining a union. Thats the law – I look forward to seeing how that is proven. Maybe others will find it interesting, too.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — February 6, 2008 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  23. […] a “slap” complaint with the Labor Relations Board about this blog.  And, of course, Ricci falls right into line by telling a reporter that I will be costing the school a lot of money because of this complaint.  […]

    Pingback by NEA to the taxpayers, “F*** You” « Chariho School Parents’ Forum — February 10, 2008 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

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