Chariho School Parents’ Forum

November 25, 2008

Follow-up on meeting

Filed under: 1 — Editor @ 8:58 pm

 

Ousted Chariho official enlists lawyer to challenge school committee

By Victoria Goff

 

 


The Sun Staff

WOOD RIVER JCT. — A Chariho Regional School Committee member who was ousted by colleagues last week has enlisted an attorney to challenge whether the com­mittee had the authority to dismiss him.

The School Committee voted 6-3-1 to disqualify William J. Felkner, 45, “from participat­ing in School Committee meet­ings” last week after Chariho Solicitor Jon M. Anderson issued an oral opinion that Felkner was no longer a mem­ber of the committee since he became a newly elected mem­ber of the Hopkinton Town Council a day earlier.

The committee also decided that Felkner was disqualified until a ruling from the state Board of Elections or court said otherwise.

Felkner, of Ashaway, has two years left in his School Committee term since joining the board in 2006. The com­mittee includes representa­tives from each of the three Chariho towns: Charlestown, four members; Hopkinton, four members; and Richmond, three members.

Felkner said Monday that he has hired North Scituate­based attorney Nicholas Gor­ham, the House Minority Whip who lost his seat in this month’s election.

“It’s a dangerous precedent that a legislative body can start removing its own mem­bers,” Gorham said.
He said he has not “seen anything in the Chariho Act [the district’s governing docu­ment] that gives the School Committee the authority to remove a member.”

Gorham also said that, although he has not reviewed the meeting’s agenda yet, he was told “this removal wasn’t even on the agenda… Certainly the public should know if they’re going to do something like that. Certainly Mr. Felkner should know. There are some real procedural issues to begin with that have to be carefully examined.”

Felkner and Gorham said they plan to address the School Committee at an upcoming meeting on the matter.

“I think we should have an open discussion in public about some of the issues that they’ve tried to raise,” Gorham said. “I just want to appeal to common sense.”

“Common sense” is what Chariho Superintendent Barry J. Ricci said led him to assume that Felkner was not going to retain his seat on the School Committee after being elected to the council — the reason why he said he did not send Felkner a pack­et of documents pertaining to the meeting’s agenda.

When Felkner contacted Ricci prior to the meeting about not receiving the pack­et, Ricci said he chose not to respond. He did not offer specifics on why.

Felkner’s status on the School Committee was not a listed agenda item. Discussion on the matter began during the commit­tee’s “Call to Order” in public before the executive session, which was scheduled a half­hour earlier than the regular session open to the public.

“From a common sense and practical point of view, how could you ever anticipate the need to put an agenda item to remove someone who would not be there,” Ricci said.

Asked why Felkner was not placed on the agenda, given that Felkner indicated he planned to attend when he inquired about his com­mittee packet, Ricci replied: “The agenda was already published and posted. It was much too late to change the agenda. They [the Hopkinton Town Council] weren’t sworn in until Monday night [the day before the committee met]. He could have chosen not to be sworn in to the council on Monday night, then he would have been a member of the School Committee.”

William G. Day, of Wyoming, who handled the matter during his final hour as committee chairman, said he contacted the district solicitor, Anderson, about the legality of Felkner serving on the school board and Hopkinton council simulta­neously, after it had “been mentioned to me by a couple of individuals that Felkner planned to continue to serve.”

The first time Day said he heard Anderson’s opinion was at the meeting. Anderson, who does not typi­cally attend committee meet­ings, was already expected to be present for a listed agenda item, Ricci said.
When Day was asked why he didn’t contact Felkner prior to the meeting, he replied: “Mr. Felkner is a very difficult individual to speak to.” Day cited a phone message that he said Felkner left three to four months ago, in which he accused Felkner of being “very crude” and “very unprofessional.”

Felkner did not speak to the committee during the hour-long debate about whether he should remain on the school board, except to say he did not think the com­mittee had the authority to remove him. When Day told Felkner he could sit in the audience, Felkner refused.

“We gave him every oppor­tunity to sit in the audience,” Day said about the commit­tee discussion, noting Felkner could have addressed the committee during the public forum and could have weighed in on agenda items as a member of the public.

When Felkner refused to leave the meeting, Day asked a police officer to “escort Mr. Felkner.” The officer told Felkner that he could not stay at the meeting.

“That wasn’t my call,” Day said. “That was the police officer’s call. I haven’t talked to the officer or the chief as to what was the reasoning for asking the gentleman to leave.”

Richmond Police Chief Raymond A. Driscoll did not return a phone message before press time.
Anderson said he deter­mined his opinion by collec­tively interpreting the Chariho Act, the Hopkinton Town Charter, common law known as the “Doctrine of Incompatibility” and case law from Georgia and Washington.

The Chariho Act and Hopkinton Town Charter do not explicitly state that a town councilor cannot serve on the School Committee.

However, Anderson told the committee that the Hopkinton Town Charter prohibits a person from hold­ing more than one elected town office concurrently. It also says: “Members on boards or commissions that act as representation of the Town of Hopkinton in regards to the School District shall not disallow that elec­tor from serving on another board, committee or commis­sion in Town government.”

The charter defines mem­bers of the council and School Committee as elected offi­cials.

Anderson said the two offices would be “incompati­ble,” offering the example of a councilor voting on a ballot question for his or her town to withdraw from the school district, while the councilor served on the school commit­tee.

Felkner contacted Ethics, Elections boards

Before William J. Felkner appeared at the Hopkinton Town Council and Chariho Regional School Committee meetings last week, he said he contacted two state agencies on holding dual offices.
Steven Cross, chief of investigations for the state Ethics Commission, said he never issued an “official advisory opinion” to Felkner, but acknowledged he did speak with him prior to last week’s School Committee meeting.

He said he told Felkner that, in the past, the commission has “had advisory opinions that when the question is strictly, ‘I’m on the town council, can I run for another office and can I keep both offices,’ we have said with cautionary language, yes, you can do that.”

However, Cross noted that the advice was based on the state code of ethics; it did not address the town charter.

 

 

 

At this point, Cross said, “There’s nothing here to be handled by the ethics board.”

Robert Kando, executive director of the state Board of Elections, said the board would issue an opinion only if it received a formal complaint that specifies the alleged violation of state law and facts supporting the accusation.

Kando said he has spoken with Felkner over the past two weeks and told him, “I didn’t know of anything in state law that allowed it or dis­allowed it. If he had any questions, he should contact his attorney.”
Felkner said last week that he wants to serve on the School Committee and Hopkinton Town Council in order to implement school choice, a system in which a guardian chooses a school for his or her child, regardless of location.

November 20, 2008

ProJo reports on meeting

Filed under: 1 — Editor @ 12:24 am

This is on the ProJo blog. I assume it will be, or be the basis for, an article in the mornings paper.

New Hopkinton councilman tries to keep his Chariho board seat

By Donita Naylor
Journal Staff Writer

The state Ethics Commission received so many inquiries Wednesday about whether a newly elected Hopkinton Town Councilman could continue serving on the Chariho School Committee that, by 3 p.m., the receptionist knew exactly where to direct a caller as soon as she heard the word “Chariho”.

Steven Cross, the commission’s chief of investigations, said he had been telling callers all day that the issue was not one for his agency.
“We don’t believe there was any violation of the ethics code,” Cross said.

Bill Felkner of Ashaway, who has served on the School Committee since 2006 and whose term expires in 2010, was elected to the Hopkinton council on Nov. 4 and sworn in on Monday. He said he asked both the state Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission if he could hold both seats and was told — unofficially –that he could hold both as long as he didn’t vote on school issues for the town or town issues for the school committee.

He said he didn’t get the packet of meeting documents that is routinely delivered to members of the School Committee on the Friday before a Tuesday session, he said.
When he arrived at the Chariho Middle School on Tuesday for the 6:30 p.m. closed session that was to precede the 7 p.m. public meeting, he still did not have a packet and there was no name card marking his place at the table.

He sat down anyway.

The meeting opened at 6:30 with the Chariho Regional School District lawyer, Jon M. Anderson, being invited to speak. He delivered the opinion that Felkner was no longer a member of the School Committee.

William Day, a Richmond member who was still chairman of the School Committee until his successor was elected about an hour later, said he was satisfied with that opinion and refused to acknowledge Felkner as anything but a member of the public. He did not allow Felkner to comment and instructed the clerk not to count his vote.

A recess was called while Day called the Police Department and requested that an office be sent to the meeting room. After the patrolman arrived, committee members walked into a separate room for the closed session, Felkner among them.

The officer, Patrolman Dan Kelley, stood politely as the members filed past.

In a few minutes, they all came out again and took their seats. Day again invited Anderson to speak.

The lawyer told Felkner that he had effectively given up his board seat when he was sworn in as a Hopkinton councilman the day before.

Day polled the committee members on whether Felkner should be removed from the meeting. With Felkner’s vote not counted and Terri Serra abstaining, the vote was 5 to 4, and Day asked Patrolman Kelley to remove Felkner.

Felkner said as he stood to leave: “I want to make sure everybody understands that this is under protest.”

Supt. Barry Ricci said Wednesday that it seemed obvious, logical and “just kind of common sense” that when Felkner was elected to the Town Council he would give up his school seat. The school board’s lawyer, Ricci noted, pointed out that Barack Obana resigned from the Senate once he was elected president.

Hopkinton Town Manager William DiLibero said Wednesday that Town Solicitor Patricia Buckley would not issue an opinion unless asked asked to do so by the Town Council. The next regular council meeting is Dec 1.

Superintendent Ricci said he hoped “that the adults will find a way to solve any problems so that the focus will be on the education of the children of Chariho.”

[UPDATE] Friday’s paper might have an update HERE

November 19, 2008

Tape Part 6

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:33 pm

Voice vote to remove Felkner from the Committee:

Bill Day, “I will only be chair here for the next meeting or two, so I will ask for a census to follow your suggestion (Andy McQuade’s suggested to have the police officer remove me from the meeting).”
AP yes, GA no, DC no, RV no, HE yes, MC yes, AM yes, TS yes, BP no (they didn’t count my vote, but it was a ‘no’)

Bill Day, “Officer…”

Tape Part 5

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:24 pm

Board votes on the motion: “Mr. Felkner is disqualified from participating in school committee meetings from this day forward until told that there is no legal conflict by the Ethics Commission or Board of Elections.”

 

Vote: 5 for, 3 opposed (DC, GA, RV) and one abstention (Bob Petit).  They did not count my vote.

 

Bill Day asked Felkner to leave – Felkner, “I still think I am a member of this school committee.”

 

BD: calls the police. 


AM: moves to go into Executive Session.  I went in, they wouldn’t proceed with me present so everyone came back into the room.

Tape Part 4

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:21 pm

The Motion: “Mr. Felkner is disqualified from participating in school committee meetings from this day forward until told that there is no legal conflict by the Ethics Commission or Board of Elections.”

Tape Part 3

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:20 pm

Deb Carney tries to use logic with the attorney – “What section of RI law does it say Mr. Felkner can’t occupy two seats?”

Jon Anderson – “The Chariho Act coupled with the Hopkinton Town Charter, coupled with the Doctrine of Incompatibility.”

DC: “We have heard that its state law, but nowhere here in the Chariho Act does it say he doesn’t have the right to serve on both.”

George Abbott tried to reason with the attorney as well – “You mentioned these conflicts of interest…I realize that the issues are rather different, but I would say we have to remove all the people that have family working at Chariho. I don’t say this to insult anybody, but how does that differ from your opinion that voting on various issues affecting the town would present a conflict of interest ..”

[editors note] Andy McQuade just graduated from Chariho 2 years ago and has an aunt working there. Frmr vice chairman Andy Polouski worked at Chariho for 34 years and has a niece working there. Current vice chairman Bob Petit’s cousin is Brian Stanley, the business administrator. Chairperson Holly Eaves is going to school right now to become a teacher. And frmr chairman Bill Day’s wife and son are employees at Chariho and Bill works for Perspectives as a “one on one” – this position requires that he spend his day with a special needs individual at that person’s workplace. Where does that person work? You guessed it, Chariho – shredding paper. So the frmr chairman, who just arbitrarily ruled to have me removed, has a wife and son employed at Chariho and he spends his days there too. And his employer (Perspectives) receives compensation for that time.

And those are just the ones I know about.

Tape Part 2

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:18 pm

Recommendation by Jon Anderson, Chariho solicitor: “Mr. Chair, it is my recommendation to you as the chair of the Chariho Regional School Committee that the position Mr. Felkner received from the School Committee is vacant, that Mr. Felkner should be asked to join the public and enjoy the same rights that the folks in the public have tonight, and that he, that he not be counted whenever any votes are taken or recorded by the clerk.”

Bill Day: I will accept your recommendation because you are our solicitor.”

Nov 18 meeting Part 1

Filed under: 1,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office),Video — Editor @ 11:12 pm

Chariho attorney, Jon M. Anderson of Edwards, Angel & Dodd, gives his “ruling” and “recommendation” that Felkner is not “qualified” to serve on both the Hopkinton Town Council and Chariho Regional School Committee. Cites for support the Chariho Act (section 10 1A and section 18), the Hopkinton Town Charter (sections 2130 and 1240) and the “Doctrine of Incompatibility.”

The new media

Filed under: 1 — Editor @ 9:26 pm

I spoke with someone who suggested that the Blogosphere could be the new media.  She was surprised by the number of comments posted here just since last night (over 60 I think) and she asked if I knew the hit count.  I haven’t watched it in a long time.  When the NEA filed that bogus complaint and was sent whimpering when Mary Botelle gave them a talkin’ to we registered the highest I had ever seen with about 900 hits.  Today, we closed out the 24 hour period at 8:00 with 1494 hits.  Granted, that probably included 20 each from CR and CP but its still a lot of visitors for a community so small.  Perhaps this is the new media.  Thank you all for making it happen.  Its good to know the community can have a voice that will be listened to.  I think it was George (plz correct me if wrong) that said the school admin had expressed great dispair over this blog.  It has great power – like how LB’s research and the videos on the internet that  got us to change the math curriculum – you mobilized a lot of people and information in short order.  Maybe this Internet thing will catch on!  Thanks,

nov-08-hit-counter

Notes

Filed under: 1 — Editor @ 4:35 pm

[UPDATE]

I am going to rewrite this in chronological order

Way back when, when I was thinking about running for the town council, someone came to me with a copy of the Hopkinton Charter and showed me where it said, “Membership on boards or commissions that act as representation of the Town of Hopkinton in regards to the School District shall not disallow that elector from serving on another board, committee or commission in Town government.”

I spoke with a lawyer friend of mine, not paid and on the record, and he explained that unless you have an exact copy of our situation that was tried in court (as an example, it would need to be the same town council using the same town charter on the same school committee) only then could you say, ‘there is case law that is a slam dunk’ and even then, enough money could persuade a lawyer to argue either side.

Point is, until someone makes a case of it, you never know if it means what you think it means.  You take free advice, worth every penny, and make a decision.  So I went about getting free advice.

I contacted the Town’s attorney.  She made it clear that she was not going to give legal advice nor would she want me to use any comments as adding merit to an argument.  But she did suggest that I contact Ethics.  Which I did.

Last Friday I spoke with Ethics.  They have ruled on dual seats, but would not make any official or legal rulings or opinions on my issue.  They did say that I might need to recuse myself if there was a conflict of interest as I could be representing both sides (them suggesting this seems to imply that it has been done before).  I tried to explain that I thought it was more like a congruence of interest, not a conflict, as my constituency is the same for both. but he said it would need to be decided on an individual basis and that I should call them before meetings to get an opinion.  He then suggested I speak with the Board of Elections on the dual seat question.

Saturday I notice that the school committee packet wasn’t on the porch.  I emailed Ricci asking for a copy ‘asap’

On MOnday still no packet.  I emailed Ricci again.

On Monday, I also heard back from the board of elections, he said, like all lawyers, ‘I’m not making an official decision or ruling, but it looks like its ok.  I don’t see anything to restrict holding two seats.”  (note: i totally understand their hesitation to be held to an opinion. They don’t  have time to thoroughly research , so you just take it as an educated thought).  But if I had the Chariho School Budget, I could ask for official legal opinions all day long – especially since Bob Petit made the motion to give Ricci unfettered access to the lawyer (someone played like a cheap flute here?) but I digress…

I also called Ethics back and told them that I didn’t get the packet, thus have no idea if there is a vote that I need an opinion on NOR was I comfortable voting on anything without an opportunity to read the material first.  He said, “why didn’t you get the packet?”  I don’t know, I said – “call and ask why you didn’t get it, ask them for it.  And if they don’t give it to you, and this is NOT official advice from ethics, but what you could do is tell them that you might have to move to table each vote until you have the same time to review the material as everyone else had”

I called Donna and Barry’s office – no answer.  No answer to emails.  I called Bill Day and left message that I would ask to table so I can read the material.

I hear from George Abbott, Ricci tells him that my seat was vacated when I was sworn in, he cited ‘common law of incompatability’

I called Elections back and he said, “he might have a point, but I’m not making an offical ruling. You should speak with a lawyer.”  I asked, who, my town’s lawyer or a personal one.  He said what ever I could get.

I got a call from Ethics and they said, “Did you tell Chariho that we told you to move to table every vote?”  I said, no, I told them the same thing every lawyer has told me for days, “it is not an official opinion or ruling or suggestion” but I did talk to you and you did say, “what you could do is…”

I called a lawyer friend of mine.  First I told him that they were citing Common Law to block me.  “they can’t do that,” he said.  Then I read him our Act and he also agreed that it looks like I can do it.  Then he looked for state law and said it still looks olk. But he, like the others, didn’t do exhaustive research .”  So I went to the meeting. 

This lawyer also told me to emphasize that if they move forward and do not let me vote and review the material, anyone who objects could claim that the votes taken were not valid.  THis is interesting as this is the same argument that Jon Anderson will make in the meeting to keep me off.  Saying they would get sued unless they removed me. 

Which brings us to the notes….

 

Here are the notes I tried to make tonight.   NOTE: I was not given notification that I was going to be asked to leave the Committee. 

All of this is John Anderson speaking until you get to the section using initials.    JA – john anderson, AM – andy mcquade, BD – bill day, DC – deborah carney, you get the idea

Jon Anderson is with Edwards, Angel & Dodds and is the school’s attorney – He addresses the council.  “I was asked to speak – is Felkner qualified to serve?  We have elected a member of the Senate to president – Obama made the decision to resign Senate.  Monday, Felkner’s seat became vacant when he was sworn to the Town Council.

 

The Chariho Act 10-1A says that in the event of vacancy the town council will fill the void.  The vacancy comes from Mr. F’s “incapacity to serve.”

 

The Hopkinton Town Charter – 2130 defines who is elected.  1240 speaks to Multiple Office Holdings – 2 sentences , one says NO, one says if a seat is with the “school district” is does not disallow holding two seats.

 

No elected member of the Town government shall hold more than one (1) elective or position in the Town Government at the same time. No elected member of the Town gov- shall, at the same time, hold any position by virtue of an appointment by the Town Council or the Town Manager. Appointed members of the Town Government may hold more than one (1) appointed position if the Town Council fails to find and appoint any other Town elector to the vacant position. Membership on boards or commissions that act as representation of the Town of Hopkinton in regards to the School District shall not disallow that elector from serving on another board, committee or commission in Town government.

 

“How do we read these?”

Is it possible to satisfy both sentences?  Chariho Act speaks about building committee and holding another seat …

 

RI Doctrine of Incompatibility

 

Are they “inherently incompatible?  YES” Chariho Act Sec 18, how do you withdraw from the Act… The appropriate method to withdraw, 

 

“My recommendation to the chair is that Mr. Felkner’s position is vacant – he could be asked to attend the meeting as a member of the public but he is not to be counted by clerk or vote”

 

BD – “I will accept his recommendation.”

 

JA – Im hear to speak to the SC as a whole. If Mr. F is left on the committee someone could sue the school because the votes would be invalidates (NOTE this is the same warning I was told to give the committee).

 

BD – MR. F will you please leave.

 

BF – I do not think you have the authority to make this decision and I do not recognize the decision.

 

AM – (asking JA) what actions do we need to take? 

 

JA – ‘don’t believe there is any. Chariho made a ruling that Mr. Felkner is not a member of this committee.  I have told Mr. F that he can use the court system if he disagrees.”

 

AP – ‘my past experience, if you get on the council you leave the school committee.  I read the law”

 

DC – pointed out that she reads the law differently and the Chariho Act Sec he is citing doesn’t even have anything to do with dual seats.  “This doesn’t have anything to do with Mr. F”  She feels that if they move forward the committee they could be disenfranchising Hopkinton (DC is from Charlestown).

 

JA – what I see in the Chariho Act, coupled with HTC charter, coupled with common law, says Felkner can’t do it.  The issue is that Felkner is not qualified for the seat. – if votes are taken and Felkner is on the committee, someone might sue the school.

 

AM – better to be sued by Felkner than a bunch of lawsuits

 

JA – “AM eloquently put it, better for one suit than several”

 

DC – moved to table vote. 

 

** – School Committee did not count my vote.

 

AP – Move to question –

 

Question “Disallow Felkner from SC from this day forward until a court tells them otherwise – AP corrected to say, “board of elections or a court”

 

*** — SC did not count my vote.  SO – if I was still on the board until this vote was taken (assuming they have the authority to do that) why didn’t they count my vote?  Bill Day already decided.  Good thing we have this on tape ( thank you Sylvia)

 

JA – said the ethics commission has not given advice nor an opinion on this issue (true but I did speak with them all and got non-official suggestions).

 

Bill Day called the police

 

Move to recess. 

** – ignored my vote.

 

Back in Session –

 

Move to go into executive session.   (didn’t count my vote)

 

In session (lawyer said it was NOT an executive session because I, a member of the public, was there). 

 

AM slipped and said that Holly Eaves had been elected chair of the committee (didn’t I tell you!)

 

AM – how long do we let this go on? What course of action do we have?

 

JA – there is a forum to dispute this for Mr. F, it is the court, not here. 

As soon as we started talking about me (not on the agenda, again) Deb Carney got up and said we can’t do this and walked to the door.  JA said, “this isn’t executive session (he began pacing about this time, good to see him getting upset – he should be concerned).

 

AM – we could ask for intervention – we have a Richmond Police officer – what does it take to get a member of the public removed?

 

BF –  they don’t have the authority to make those decision but if the police officer comes to me and tells me to leave, I will not resist.

 

Bill Day said he was only going to be president for a few more moments so he asked for a roll call vote to have me removed.  AP – yes, GA – no, DC – no, RV – no, BD – yes, HE – yes, MC – yes, AM – yes, TS – abstain (just got there), BP – no (shocking true, maybe he figured out he got snookered on that motion to give Ricci free legal muscle), BF – no (did not count my vote).  5 – 4 vote (not counting mine)

 

As I walked out under escort, I asked if I could come back in.  Officer Dan Kelly (badge 22) said no.  I could sit in the car and wait, but I couldn’t go back in the building ( I actually felt sorry for this guy, bad duty to pull).

 

That’s all the notes I took.  I missed a lot I know, but Sylvia taped it.  I will try to get it posted for us here.  But if others can help me fill in the blanks, I would appreciate it.

 

It is important to know that this was NOT on the agenda.  Not sure how you can take a vote on something that no one was given an opportunity to read about – but that’s the Chariho way, no?

 

All of this could have been hidden if it weren’t for Sylvia and Dorothy showing up early to tape it.  THX

 

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