Chariho School Parents’ Forum

September 28, 2009

Are “conflicts of interest” still conflicts when you make money off of them?

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 10:07 am

From the Westerly Sun – h/t Dorothy

Two committees, different entities

IT STANDS TO REASON THAT THE CHARIHO Re­gional School Committee and the Chariho Building Committee are different enti­ties. Beyond the most obvious difference — their names — they have distinct member­ships and roles.

So, it would seem, they are different enti­ties before the law.

Now, it is true that the two committees serve the same public and share many goals, such as turning the tri-town district’s $20.5­million capital projects into reality. But when you move in the realm of public office — or multi-million dollar projects — there’s no such thing as making too certain your legal ground is secure.

In legal matters, both panels turn to Ed­wards, Angell, Palmer and Dodge, a Provi­dence law firm. On a simple level, that makes perfect sense. If the firm is good enough to represent school officials, why not represent school building officials?

That argument faltered when the school committee was told by Attorney Jon M. An­derson that he couldn’t offer a legal opinion on an issue because it regarded another client — the building panel.

[Editor’s Note] – Jon Anderson is the attorney who told the Chariho School committee that I couldn’t serve on both the SC and Town Council because of “conflicts of interest.”

The very idea angered Andrew J. Polouski, a member of the school committee, who said that the primary function of the firm is to serve the elected board, and that the build­ing committee should have hired another firm.

Admittedly, it seems on the face of things that such a relationship might be the most efficient course of action, but in this scenario we’re also talking about a $20 million project and that has to take precedence over poten­tial savings of a fraction of that cost.

We find it odd that the law firm didn’t at least raise the issue of a possible conflict by serving both boards, however remote it might have appeared at the start. Neverthe­less, the local boards have a responsibility for considering potential or perceived con­flicts of interest in this kind of scenario as well.

It’s been tough enough for the school dis­trict to pass a bond in the first place; we hate to see preventable technical dilemmas get in the way of implementing the bond.

While the two panels are certainly on the same side, as School Committee member Ter­ri Serra noted, perhaps this bump in the road can serve as a caution sign to be on the look out for any other potential issues as this exciting project takes shape.

 ___________________________________

 Chariho continues to embarrass itself …

July 10, 2009

Some conflicts are more conflicting than others

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 9:17 pm

I’m sure you recall how the Supreme Court removed me from the CSC stating that when the town leased the school building to Chariho (for $1) that I had to sit on two sides of a contract, thus an inherent conflict was present and I had to go. Today’s ProJo reports on some related activity.

April 7, 2009

Supreme Court ruling

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 8:07 pm

Well, the decision is in and we lost.  I sincerely appreciate your support and wish I had better news.

Courts often find solutions that have the least impact on the wider population. In this case we thought that if they went against us they would say it was an interpretation of the Hopkinton Charter. And they did reference the charter – but they also used the doctrine of incompatibility in the decision.

Regarding the Hopkinton Charter – I probably shot myself in the foot with this. From the beginning I asked the town council NOT to expend any resources on this case. We did reference the town’s letter and support in our briefs but it is possible that an opinion from the town’s solicitor interpreting the Charter would have been helpful. But again, I have no one to blame but myself for that. It is what it is.

As for the other part of the decision, that conflicts of interest between two seats of authority are incompatable, I find the fact that they even delved into it much more interesting. 

Goldberg used the lease for the elementary school as an example of an inherent conflict. I can’t help but think that there are representatives at the State House who have similar conflicts.  I am surprised, but glad, that they based their decision, at least in part, on the conflict issue.

Again, sorry we didn’t win but thanks for keeping the faith. But things always seem to work out for the best so we will see what this brings.

Felkner v Chariho (opinion)

March 11, 2009

Chariho Times reports on hearing

Filed under: Budget,Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 9:44 pm

Its wait and see on Felkner court case

and

Cuts to school budget would be prudent

LTE in Sun

Felkner case is about the issues, not personalities


  The issue of dual office holding is a serious one; it has significant im­plications for fair and responsible government. The matter of William Felkner holding a seat on both the Chariho School Committee and the Hopkinton Town Council will be set­tled by our judicial system. This is where it should be settled.
  In my role as chairperson of the Chariho School Committee, I am at­tempting to bring, establish and fos­ter a culture of respect and fairness where problems can be solved open­ly, honestly, and free of emotion.
  Although I am sure that the three Hopkinton Town Councilors who wrote a letter to the editor in the
March 4 edition of The Sun believe they are correct in supporting Mr. Felkner in his case regarding dual of­fice holding, the use of derogatory and divisive language to attack the Chariho School Committee on this matter is unnecessary and counter­productive. These councilors are try­ing to confuse the issue with dra­matic and unfounded personal claims. As these councilors have themselves stated, let the courts do their work!
  Regardless of decisions that come down from the courts, we must be willing to work on the educational is­sues that face the Chariho Regional School District. It is well known
that the environment may be less than harmonious at times (some­times democracy is messy), but the single most important role of the School Committee is to provide the best possible education at the lowest possible cost for the children of Charlestown, Richmond and Hop­kinton. As chairperson, I will work to keep our committee focused and working to do just that. I look for­ward to a decision on this issue so we can focus on the present and the fu­ture of our children.
  Holly Eaves Chariho School Committee chair Charlestown

PS. I was surprised to see the headline Seniors could lose free lunch. I’ll post my response after they print it.

March 10, 2009

Monday’s Sun feature

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 7:04 pm

Monday, the Westerly Sun did a feature on how OSPRI and I got started.

A political lightning rod
During his short political career, William Felkner has accused his alma mater of liberal bias, started a free-market think tank and done battle with the Chariho School Committee.

ASHAWAY — It was only within the past few years that 45-year-old William Felkner became interested in politics.

Since that time, he’s charged that his alma mater has a liberal bias against him. He’s also started a free-market thinktank, which includes the state’s first lady on its board of directors.

And he’s taken his battle to retain his seat on the Chariho Regional School Committee to the state’s highest court, claiming colleagues wrongfully ousted him.

Overall, I thought it was pretty good. A few minor mistakes but that happens when so much info is being rattled off so quickly – primarily the fact that I have 2 girls and a boy, not 3 girls.  And Kat is from MA, I moved back from SD to marry  her here, she did not live in SD with me.  Also, I did do my internship in the Gov’s office and worked on the welfare legislation, what I didn’t get was credit for my work as RI College refused to allow me to write my master’s thesis on welfare reform (as they said, it was a “toxic subject” and caused too many problems when I voiced my position – sounds kinda like Chariho, eh?).

Full story HERE (the comments are pretty interesting too)

Court report from the Sun

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 6:30 pm

From today’s Westerly Sun:

Justices question Felkner on built-in conflicts of dual role
 By VICTORIA GOFF

 Sun Staff Writer
  PROVIDENCE — William Felkner should be able to repre­sent citizens of Hopkinton on both the Town Council and Char­iho Regional School Committee, his attorney told the state’s high court Monday, but justices ques­tioned whose interests he would serve if there were conflicts be­tween the offices. Suppose the other towns in the school district, Charlestown and Richmond, endorsed teaching the Chinese language in schools, but Hopkinton didn’t want to support it for financial reasons. How would Felkner react, asked Jus­tice William P. Robinson III.

  Or, what would happen if the school board wanted to close a school in Hopkinton and send the students to Richmond, in­quired Justice Paul A. Suttell.

  Retired Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, who continues to sit on the bench until a replacement is named, raised concerns over the role of the council when a budg­et is set for the school district.

  Williams, a Richmond resident and former town solicitor for Hopkinton, asked Felkner’s at­torney if the council “sign[s] off on the budget” or offers a recom­mendation to school officials.
  Felkner’s lawyer, Nicholas Gorham, replied it does not.

  “It has no say whatsoever?” Williams asked.

  Gorham again replied no, say­ing the school budget is “con­trolled by the people.” Taxpayers vote on a proposal adopted by the school board before the towns’ budgets are set.

  Williams pressed again about the council, “They’re always in agreement with what Chariho recommends?”
  Gorham disagrees with Chariho Solicitor Jon M. Ander­son that Felkner represents all who live within the school district. He claims Felkner’s constituency only includes those from Hop­kinton because they are the ones who elected him, as school board members are chosen by voters from their respective town.

  “You were elected by peo­ple in your district and you were obligated to serve the entire state,” Acting Chief Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg told Gorham, a former longtime state rep­resentative.

  She also cited sections from the Hopkinton Town Charter that define town councilors and school com­mittee members as elected officials and indicates elect­ed officials cannot hold more than one office in town gov­ernment.

  “So why shouldn’t this case be solely decided on those grounds?” Goldberg asked.

  Gorham contended the school committee is not part of town government.

  In his 20-minute argu­ment to the court, Gorham also claimed the school com­mittee did not have the au­thority to remove Felkner from its meeting in No­vember, calling it a “dan­gerous precedent” for mu­nicipal and school boards. The board’s vote was taken after Felkner was sworn to the council.

  Goldberg, citing an 1887 decision by the court, said, “Where the offices are in­compatible, the acceptance of one means you have va­cated the other. That’s a matter of law.”

  Williams later asked Gorham why his client wants to serve on both boards.

  “I don’t know. I think he has an agenda that he wish­es to pursue,” Gorham replied, adding there needs to be more people like him. Felkner has told The Sun that he wanted to serve on both to implement a school voucher system, in which parents would choose a school for their children, regardless of location.
  Goldberg asked Ander­son about the school com­mittee’s vote to disqualify Felkner.

  “It was a gutsy move by the school district to move on its own,” she said. “What other options did it have?” The Chariho solicitor replied it had none, as Felkner had taken a seat at the committee table at the start of the meeting.

  “Wouldn’t it call into ques­tion” the votes that were taken by the school com­mittee after it removed Felkner, Suttell asked.

  Anderson said that, had Felkner been allowed to re­main on the board, he would have been permitted to par­ticipate in a private ses­sion that was scheduled for that night. Felkner’s at­tempt to sit in on the session forced the committee to postpone the meeting.

  In concluding his argu­ments on the case, Anderson quoted from the Federalist Papers, a series of essays published in the late 1700s to explain the importance of the new Constitution for the United States: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

  The justices gave no in­dication as to when they would issue a decision. De­cisions are typically released six to eight weeks after a hearing, court spokesman Craig N. Berke said.

  Justice Francis X. Fla­herty recused himself from the case, but did not provide a reason.

  After the court session, Felkner told The Sun, “I was disappointed in the chief [justice]’s description in my behavior of being less than sterling [at the school committee meeting]. … I don’t know why anyone would say that.”

  A couple of hours later, he wrote about the court hear­ing on his blog, Chariho School Parents’ Forum, ac­cusing Goldberg of seeming “to show a bias immediate­ly when she said, ‘your client’s conduct is not ex­actly sterling when he dis­rupted the meeting.’ ” “I wonder if she saw the tape of the meeting and what disruption I caused,” he wrote. “Furthermore, considering the CSC [Char­iho School Committee] had five days notice that I would be coming to the meeting, could they have done some­thing differently to avert this distraction?”

March 9, 2009

Court notes

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 1:50 pm

Just wanted to share a few items I made note of from today’s hearing (in paraphrased form). 

After recusals, the case was heard by Chief Goldberg and justice Robinson, Suttell and Williams.

Williams started with the question – did Felkner resign as claimed by Chariho.

Gorhman – “no” – and explained that it was a “virtual resignation” according to Chariho.  He went on to explain that Title 16 (RIGL) nor the Chariho Act gives the CSC the authority to remove.

Williams – “Are you suggesting that every time there is a vote at the CSC will they be here before us?

Gorham – no, if you allow the SC to throw Felkner off, you will empower other Committees to try something like this and you will find this court hearing more cases like this.

Chief Goldberg seemed to show a bias immediately when she said, ‘your client’s conduct is not exactly sterling when he disrupted the meeting.’ – I wonder if she saw the tape of the meeting and what disruption I caused.  Furthermore, considering the CSC had 5 days notice that I would be coming to the meeting, could they have done something differently to avert this distraction?  And – if you recall when the NEA filed a complaint against me, I was not allowed to speak with the attorney.  Who made that decision?  Ricci (we have to assume because there was not board decision on the matter).  So, since the Chariho attorney had already shown that they were working for Ricci and not necessarily the SC (and certainly not me), why would I trust that attorney to give me unbiased opinions?

PLUS – I did contact Ethics and the board of elections and was given an unofficial “I see no reason you can’t” form Elections and Ethics said they don’t rule on that issue but if I do serve on two seats that I need to call them to find out if I recuse on particular issues (suggesting that they do deal with dual office holders).

But Chief Goldberg didn’t pursue that point – she just threw it out there and moved on.

She then asked, ‘how can your client hold two seats?’

Gorham – because they are not incompatible.

Justice WIlliams – what rold does the HTC have on the Chariho budget?

Gorham – nominal, there is no duty to the budget.

Goldberg – ‘are you saying the seats are coterminous and equal?  Gorham – yes.

Justice Robinson asked questions suggesting that the CSC had a fiduciary duty to all the students.

Gorham countered this saying they have a duty to the students’ education but not necessarily the financial well being of Chariho (which I agree since I believe the students’ education would improve if we implemented school choice, which may be damaging to Chariho’s bottom line.)

Goldberg – he has interests that go beyond the borders of Hopkinton. What if the CSC wants to close a HOpkinton Elementary building and move the kids to Richomond?

Gorham – he would do what he thinks is best for his constituency.

Robinson – what if Richmond and Charlestown want Chinese taught but Hopkinton doesn’t think its worth the money, how will he vote?

Gorham – as with everything else, he balances finances and constituent wishes – weighted against his philosophical beliefs.

Williams – (commenting on how the Hopkinton Charter is not written very well and is confusing on this issue) asked why didn’t you (Nick Gorham) fix the Act when you were a representative?

Gorham – had other things to do.

Williams – said that there was a Ethics complaint filed against me (this is news to me – I just called Ethics and they are not aware of anything).

Jon Anderson then spoke, emphasising that Chariho is a REGIONAL district.

Williams  – what role does the CSC have at district meetings & HTC role in the budget

JA – the CSC creates the budget – HTC is a “gatekeeper” to a Caroulo suit.

Williams – what authority does the SC have to say he is resigned?

JA – the SC is a legislative body – can regulate its members.  =  we don’t need to address the SC’s authority.

Williams – it was a gutsy move by the SC – what options did it have?

JA – none – he then read the Federalist Paper 51 – “if men were angels, no government would be needed.”

Then the rebuttal by Gorham- ‘the HTC has no authority in the Chariho budget.

Williams – why would he want to do this (hold 2 seats)?

Gorham – I think we need more like Felkner – he has an agenda he wants to see through (note – you might want to read today’s Westerly Sun article for a better answer to this question).

Williams – what happens if he disagrees with the Town Council?  What happens if he disagrees with the people who elected him?

Gorham – what he always does, votes his conscious.  The Court is being asked to define what his duties are outside of his duties to those who elected him.

I know I didn’t capture it all, so if those in attendance want to add please do.  I’m told the decision may take “weeks”

Overall, I was surprised how little discussion there was.  Apparently, the briefs hold the bulk of the arguments and this was just for clarification. I couldn’t really tell how it went other than to say Chief Goldberg had her mind made up on my behavior – which overlooked the facts regarding past dealings with the attorney that I previously mentioned.

March 6, 2009

Supreme Court Monday @ 9

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 5:23 pm

I wish I could give you a better estimate of exactly when we will be on.  It is likely that the court starts at 9 but because this case is probably the most interesting on the docket (more of a statement about the other cases than ours), it will probably be heard last.

The Supreme Court is located on the 7th floor of the Licht (Frank Licht former Governor of Rhode Island in the 1970’s) Building. Located at 250 Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island. The scheduling of cases can be ascertained/received from the Court Clerk at 222-3272. 

I checked with the clerk and she said we are the second one of the full arguments (whatever that means).  If you can make it, that would be great, but I certainly understand people have job (and the taxman doesn’t wait).

Also – here is Gorham’s final reply to Chariho’s last memo

 

Westerly Sun & HTC on Monday’s hearing

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 8:51 am

h/t CP so alerting me to the following items.  thx

 

This editorial is from The Westerly Sun, Wednesday, March 4th
 
Hopkinton council right to keep pressing

H

 
 
This is the letter to the editor from the HTC that appeared also on March 4th.
 

School Committee’s treatment of Felkner is way off base


  As members of the Hopkinton Town Council we would like to clearly state we fully support William Felkner’s efforts to obtain reinstatement to his seat on the Chariho School Committee. We commend Mr. Felkner for his tireless commitment to vindicating the rights of the people of Hopkinton in order to have the rep­resentative they elected, represent them on the School Committee. No matter how one feels about Mr. Felkner or his views, the high-hand­ed and despotic way in which the School Committee has treated the issue of his dual representation imperils the rule of law and the rights of all of us.
  It should be apparent to the most casual observer that the actions of the majority of the School Committee in unilaterally declaring Mr. Felkner’s seat vacant arose from the long-standing animosity that this body has shown him since the day he originally took his seat. His efforts to promote transparency, accountability and the interests of his constituency have been met with open hostility, personal insult and obstruction at
every turn. Clearly, some of the School Committee members saw an opportunity to rid themselves of a thorn in their side and jumped at the chance without considering or caring about the ramifications. As a conse­quence, our town does not have its duly elected representative, Mr. Felkner was forced into a battle that he never sought, and has not been able to devote his time to the better­ment of the Chariho School District.
  The Hopkinton Charter is clear: Mr. Felkner may hold positions as both School Committee and Town Council Member. The arguments to the contrary offered by Chariho and the other two member towns are con­voluted and unsound. Surely Hopkinton’s interpretation of its own Charter should be accepted over the interpretation of parties whose objec­tive is simply to silence Mr. Felkner’s voice for responsible stewardship of the School District. We have every confidence that the Rhode Island Supreme Court will see through the charade engaged in by the School Committee and issue a decision that is truly in the best interests of the
people of the Town of Hopkinton and the citizens of this state.
  Mr. Felkner has indicated repeat­edly that he would not allow his fight for his School Committee seat to become a drain on the Town or a sideshow detracting from the dignity and effectiveness of the Council. He has kept his word. He has personally retained able counsel who has advanced his cause skillfully. While we applaud the integrity he has shown in honoring this commitment, we wish to clearly indicate our sup­port for his efforts and express our awareness of the critical nature of the dispute that will be before this state’s highest court on March 9, 2009.
  The people of Hopkinton have twice voted for Mr. Felkner to represent them. We hope and expect that our votes matter, the Rhode Island Supreme Court will recognize this and restore our duly elected repre­sentative to the Chariho School Committee.
 
Thomas E. Buck Sylvia K. Thompson Barbara Capalbo Hopkinton Town Council

 

 

This article appeared in the March 5th Westerly Sun, front page above the fold:

 
Hopkinton Town Council throws weight behind Felkner


The court filing deadline has lapsed but three councilors have publicized their support in letters to the editor.

 By Victoria Goff

 The Sun Staff

  HOPKINTON — Town Council members are supporting their col­league in a battle to keep his seat on the Chariho Regional School Committee. But the council has not formally expressed its support
to the court that will hear the case.
  Unlike councils in Charlestown and Richmond, Hopkinton coun­cilors have not written to the state Supreme Court, which will decide if William J. Felkner, of Ashaway, can serve on both boards. But they have written to the public.
 
Town Solicitor Patricia A. Buckley told the council last month that when she read the court brief submitted by Felkner’s attorney, “I did with an eye toward, ‘is there anything we can add to this’ … my conclusion was no, there was not. And in terms of whether or not the court will care, the answer is no,” she added about the council submitting its opinion to the justices. “The court is going to focus on the legal issues.”
 
Plus, the deadline to file with the court had lapsed, she also told councilors at the time.
  This week, three of the four remaining councilors submitted a letter to area newspapers, contend­ing local law allows Felkner to hold both seats. The letter, approved earlier this week, was published in The Sun on Wednesday.
  The School Committee disquali­fied Felkner in November after he had been sworn to the Hopkinton
council. The School Committee ruled the Hopkinton Town Char­ter bars Felkner from also serving on the school board, and that the offices could present a conflict of interest.
  Felkner, who has two years remaining in his term, contends the School Committee is not part of town government, so the Hopkinton charter does not prohibit him from serving on the regional school board.
  Felkner’s case has land­ed in the state’s high court, which will hear arguments from his attorney, Nicholas Gorham, and Chariho Solicitor Jon M. Anderson on Monday.
  Councilors from Charlestown and Richmond have written to the court in support of the School Committee.
  But councilors Thomas E. Buck, Barbara A. Capalbo and Sylvia K. Thompson say in their let­ter, “It should be apparent to the most casual observer that the actions of the majority of the School Committee in unilaterally declaring Mr. Felkner’s seat vacant arose from the long-standing animosity that this body has shown him since the day he origi­nally took his seat. His efforts to promote trans­parency, accountability and the interests of his con­stituency have been met with open hostility, person­al insult and obstruction at every turn.”
  The councilors also say that, because the School Committee removed Felkner, “our town does not have its duly elected repre­sentative, Mr. Felkner was forced into a battle that he never sought, and [he] has not been able to devote his time to the betterment of the Chariho School District.”
  Councilor Beverly P.
Kenney did not sign the letter, saying she inter­prets the town charter as prohibiting Felkner from holding both offices.
  “I have nothing against Mr. Felkner,” she said. “On this committee, he has been excellent.”
  Felkner recused himself and left the meeting room while councilors discussed the letter. Thompson said it was drafted by Buckley, but she made some changes to it.

OPKINTON TOWN COUNCILORS DIDN’T MINCE WORDS
  Monday during their discussion of the proposed Chariho Regional School budget. In other years, a school budget proposal that called for an increase of less than 1 percent over the existing spending plan, which is the case with the Chariho plan, would be rea­son for celebration. Not this year.
  Councilors warned the school panel in January that the proposal would have to be less than the current budget in light of the economy. The $371,000 proposed increase in school spending was enough to ignite threats about how the budget might fare when it gets to voters. To show the depth of their displeasure with the panel, one councilor went so far as to suggest that voters might be angry enough to pull a Stonington when it comes to voting on the proposed budget.
  Stonington voters have become famous, or infamous, depending upon your point of view, for defeating budg­ets until they get what they want. Last year voters forced the town budget vote to four referenda, following what has become a bit of a tradition there. It is not uncommon for voters in Stonington to cast their first budget vote with a jacket on and wrap things up in shirt sleeves. In some years, voters have missed their opportunity to cast a ballot because they’ve been away on summer vacation.
  The issue for Hopkinton councilors is no different than it is for councilors in just about any other town. In an attempt to present taxpayers with a responsible budget that shows respect for those who may be affect­ed by layoffs, wage freezes and wage cuts as a result of the recession, municipal budget crafters are holding the line on spending. Hopkinton’s councilors, like all others, are wary of this year’s state aid package with good reason. With the state battling its own dire eco­nomic picture with a $357 million deficit, there’s not a lot of optimism when it comes to estimating how much aid cities and towns will be getting this year.
  In response to the gloomy economic picture, school leaders have indicated they may have to cut 59 teach­ing positions. That’s one way to address it, but that means drastic cuts in services and quality of education. Wage and benefit concessions by unions would go a long way toward sharing the burden while preserving qual­ity and services. We have yet to see that in any town and that is disturbing given what is happening in the private sector.
  While the Chariho proposal will require a bit less money from Hopkinton and Richmond as proposed, the fear is that the expected shortfall in state aid will more than offset the fractional savings proposed thus far. The Hopkinton Council is right to stick to its guns in calling for even more reductions in the proposed school budget before school leaders adopt a plan Tuesday to send to voters in April. School administrators and school union leaders at last have the luxury of making decisions about where the cuts might come from and how savings can be realized. Taxpayers working in the private sector don’t have that luxury.

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