01/11/11 — Board bickers over policy change query

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Board bickers over policy change query

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 11, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education started off the new year with a contentious meeting Monday night, sparring at length over a simple procedure to bring up a proposed change in the board's bylaws.

The proposed change was to ease a requirement that allows a committee to bring a recommendation before the full board without having unanimous agreement by the members of the committee. The change would require that only a majority of members of the committee would have to agree to bring an issue before the full board.

Recently elected District 1 member Chris West brought up the issue, which had not been placed on the original agenda but added at the last minute.

Before the proposal was read, West requested that the board suspend its own rules, which call for a first reading and then a 30-day wait before a vote on an issue is taken.

As soon as West made his request, District 2 representative Len Henderson, who was appointed to the board in the fall, raised an objection.

Chairman Thelma Smith said a second to West's motion was needed before there could be further discussion. But Henderson was insistent.

"Robert's Rules of Order say you have to give notice," he said.

School board lawyer Jack Edwards told Henderson that the board had on occasion suspended the rule in order to take action.

Board member John Grantham then seconded West's motion, prompting Henderson to again seek the chairman's attention. Mrs. Smith said she would allow everyone to speak before taking a vote.

"I don't feel as though we should be able to suspend the motion if we don't know what the content of that is for," Henderson said.

"We're not voting on a policy," Grantham replied. "We're just suspending the rule so that we can vote on the policy."

Henderson again invoked Robert's Rules of Order, maintaining that a bylaw change requires 30 days notice.

The board's other newly elected member, Arnold Flowers of District 5, asked that the policy be read before a vote was taken.

West read from Policy 2010, Section D, regarding standing committees of the school board as appointed by the board chairman. In addition to stipulating that a committee's responsibilities are to conduct investigations, summarize data and report findings to the superintendent and full board, it also may designate hearing panels to hear and act upon matters of appeal. The latter part was in question and up for review.

"Lack of a unanimous vote by the committee would cause such matters to be presented to the full board for final action," West read.

The proposed revision, he explained, would replace language in the last sentence to read that "a majority vote by the panel will be final." However, he explained, if there were only two members on a hearing panel and it was not unanimous, the matter would revert to a full board vote.

Henderson asked what had prompted the decision to bring the matter before the board.

"Mr. Henderson, I just think that with the chair and the vice chair's responsibilities, as a full board we're allowed to have a majority rule, I think that having that same majority rule in our committees here, we're mirroring that," West said. "You're never going to get a unanimous vote, with seven people."

"Happens all the time," Henderson replied. He said he believes it is important for a panel to reach a unanimous decision and if not, then the full board needs to address the issue.

"When you're talking about putting things in the hands of three, when you have a seven-member board, you're basically saying that these two people, even on a panel of three, can make a decision for the board," he said.

"You're certainly entitled to your opinion," West said.

"Such as you are," Henderson replied.

Flowers said he had sat on previous boards where a "domineering person" could sway other members and that he would be more comfortable if the majority was at least three people.

"Seems to me that the purpose of the three-person committee is to make a decision in lieu of the entire board," Flowers said. "I'm of the opinion that if you narrow that down to just two, I wouldn't be comfortable with (that)."

"You don't believe in consensus with just three people?" Mrs. Smith asked. "Most of the time we come to some kind of agreement ... but it's up to the board whether you want to use the unanimous decision or the majority decision, so you need to vote on that."

Board member Rick Pridgen said before a vote could be taken on any changes, there was a motion on the floor to first dispense with the rules of adopting a policy.

"It seems that this is an issue that carries a lot of weight," Flowers said. "It seems like maybe we are making the decision hastily if we do it today. I think I would be more comfortable if we waited until our next meeting to vote on that."

Grantham agreed that there was no special urgency and said he didn't have a problem with giving other board members time to think it over.

But vice chairman Eddie Radford questioned the need to wait a month and Mrs. Smith agreed with him. Henderson then asked Edwards if Robert's Rules of Order required a 30-day notice.

"You're arguing whether this is a policy or not and it's not in the manual as a policy, so it's treated like any other policy of the board," Edwards answered.

"This was not on the agenda," Flowers noted.

"It is now because we added it," Mrs. Smith replied.

"To me, it's highly suspect what the emergency is in doing it tonight," Flowers said. "Somebody explain to me why it's so immediate why we make this change tonight. What are you trying to accomplish now, tonight, that you can't accomplish in the next 30 days?"

Mrs. Smith then wrapped up the discussion, with Radford calling for a vote to suspend the rules in order to move on to the policy itself.

The motion was approved 4-2, with Henderson and Flowers the dissenting votes.

West then presented his motion for the slight change to the bylaw, which was seconded by Grantham.

Henderson made his own motion "to include language that speaks to the specific duties and responsibilities of the members of the committee." It failed due to lack of a second.

Mrs. Smith said it is not always possible for all three members of a committee to attend scheduled meetings and asked how that should be handled with fewer than three. Pridgen suggested such matters would be brought before the entire board for a vote.

Edwards said the proposal was more pertinent to times when board members are called upon to participate on a hearing panel than to the regular committee meetings.

"It was my understanding that you were talking about all committees," Flowers said.

The policy does refer to appointed committees, but also the designated hearing panels that hear and act upon matters of appeal, West said.

Mrs. Smith called for a vote, with the stipulated change "that you would use a majority vote instead of a unanimous vote when we have three."

Again, the board was divided 4-2, with Henderson and Flowers opposed.