Monthly Archives: April 2016

Subcommittees and Non-public Meetings

Board subcommittees should not be meeting in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.  Period.  A recent action by your school board will show why.

On April 14, the TRSD Safety Committee along with police went into non-public to have a discussion with Homeland Security.  The Safety Committee co-chairman, Kelly Ward, refused to allow me to be present during this non-public meeting even though I was there (during the public portion) and requested to attend.  (I am not a member of the Safety Committee, which is a standing committee of the school board.  I am, however, a member of the school board.)

At their previous Safety Committee meeting, that committee once again met in non-public with a Homeland Security representative.

Subsequent to this non-public safety committee meeting, the school board was asked to approve a Homeland Security matching grant for $48,000 in total.  ($24,00 in TRSD commitment.)  The board was not given any written material to support this need for money, nor was the board given, despite my request, the terms and conditions of the matching loan itself. The most sketchy details were floated of what would be done with this money, and a vote was taken, as it often is at our board, “on faith, and trust.”  My personal account of those TRSD commodities is in overdraft right now.

Fortunately I was able to obtain more detailed information through public documents made available by the Manchester School District.  They applied for the same grant.

What I learned from Manchester

  1. The equipment has to be purchased and installed by September 30, 2016 and the paperwork for reimbursement must be completed by Oct 31, 2016. I do not recall this being mentioned during our brief discussion of this grant because I would certainly have asked after our manpower to get all this ordered and installed in such a short time – as well as the bookkeeping followup during SAU summer hours.[Note: other board members got a single sheet of paper that I’ve subsequently learned did say that the equipment had to be installed by Sept. 30.  That paper was absent my packet.]
  2. The equipment purchases must comply with OMB Circular 2 CFR 200 which requires in part that:

    §200.62   Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards.

    Internal control over compliance requirements for Federal awards means a process implemented by a non-Federal entity designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the achievement of the following objectives for Federal awards:

    (a) Transactions are properly recorded and accounted for, in order to:

    (1) Permit the preparation of reliable financial statements and Federal reports;

    (2) Maintain accountability over assets; and

    (3) Demonstrate compliance with Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award;

    (b) Transactions are executed in compliance with:

    (1) Federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of the Federal award that could have a direct and material effect on a Federal program; and

    (2) Any other Federal statutes and regulations that are identified in the Compliance Supplement; and

    (c) Funds, property, and other assets are safeguarded against loss from unauthorized use or disposition.

Oddly enough, this is exactly the issue Timberlane’s own auditors pointed out that we fell down doing – complying with the conditions of Federal program for equipment given to us or bought with Federal money.

“Basis for Qualified Opinion on CFDA No. 84.010 Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies: As described in the accompanying schedule of findings and questioned costs, the Timberlane Regional School District did not comply with a requirement regarding CFDA No. 84.010  Title One Grants to Local Educational Agencies as described in finding number 2014-001 for Equipment and Real Property Management. Compliance with such a requirement is necessary, in our opinion, for the Timberlane Regional School District to comply with the requirements applicable to that program. ” (page 27 of the TRSD audit 2014, the most recent one available and not posted publicly.)

What else don’t we know?

Who knows what else about this rushed grant we don’t know. If I didn’t learn of this from another school district with a more robust commitment to transparency, I’d not even know this much. This is just one of the many problems with letting a subcommittee conduct its affairs in non-public to the exclusion of the rest of the board. The imaginable problems are countless because the board as a whole must operate on trust and faith rather than knowledge and facts when one of its sub-committees conducts its business in non-public to the exclusion of other board members.

Security: Yes;  Blind Faith, NO

There is no doubt security matters must be discussed in non-public. There is also no question that these non-public meetings should not exclude other members of the board who just so happen not to be assigned to these particular sub-committees.  If other members are content to operate on blind truth, that is their constituents’ loss.  I plan to do my job and trust is a luxury for non-elected persons.

Manchester Board of School Committee also approved a Homeland Security grant, but  their board had a detailed, written accounting of everything the grant money would be spent on as well as ALL the associated grant documents AND they posted this publicly.  Manchester B of SC Agendas   (See April 18, 2016 meeting materials.)

Is TRSD so transparent it is translucent, as Dr. Metzler claims?  Really?

Why are TRSD’s audits not on public pages of our website? Why aren’t the SAU audits on the public pages of the SAU site?

 

 

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Watch SAU Board Sluff Their Responsibility to You

The April 20, 2016 SAU meeting will go down in the annals of self-deception as a meeting not to be missed.

First you can watch the board make astonishingly empty-headed excuses for not changing auditors.  If this wasn’t your money being supervised by these elected officials it would be laughable.  Start at 29:30

https://vimeo.com/album/1914382/video/163641408

Then you can watch as I attempt to get the superintendent’s new Right to Know Request policy changed to be more in keeping with a sensible and convenient service ethic toward public information and a respect for open government. The intellectual dishonesty demonstrated is breathtaking. A particularly revealing moment occurs when the superintendent prefaces his comments with the phrase” revisionist history,” which is exactly what he proceeds to deliver.   Start at 44:20

https://vimeo.com/album/1914382/video/163641408

This is the government you have.  Is it the government you deserve?

Thank you to Stefanie Dube of Danville and Wayne Dinsmore of Hampstead for seconding my motions about revising the Right to Know Policy and changing the auditors (respectively) to allow a revealing if profoundly disappointing discussion of these topics.

It’s OK for others to disagree with my positions and my goals. It is also understandable that new members may be reluctant to make changes when more experienced board members hang back. It is absolutely not OK, however, for the board to be indifferent to obvious issues with our auditing arrangement and to accept that a superintendent can impose harsh conditions on our constituents to obtain public information without the establishment of a policy by the board to permit this.

We, as elected officials, should be protecting our constituents from unreasonable hardship to obtain what is theirs and not enabling self-serving obstructionism by an administration that has lost sight of who it serves.

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Green Wins Supreme Court Challenge Against SAU

First:  An apology for being scooped

“Green Wins NH Supreme Court Right to Know Suit Against SAU 55!”  You should have seen it here first, folks, but in an odd circumstance, the conventional media has scooped me on my own story.  I’ve been away and got home and back in electronic connectivity yesterday afternoon. It’s been a whirlwind of phone calls since.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court released their decision yesterday morning to the effect that public bodies must provide public information in electronic format if requested and if it so exists. This puts an end to our School Administrative Unit’s imposed policy of providing paper copies only for 50 cents a page.

All supporters of open government share our joy at this decision, which you can read here: Supreme Court decision2016034green

How it started

My battle to get detailed salary budget information to support the salary line of Timberlane’s current and proposed budget has been going on for more than a year.  I first learned from Jorge Mesa-Tejada in Hampstead that Hampstead’s elected budget committee gets the names and salaries of all the school district employees whose total salaries constitute the salary budget line, and they get this in electronic form. (This information allows anyone to determine how many budgeted but unfilled positions exist – something no elected official knows at Timberlane because the SAU refuses to provide an answer.)

At no time did SAU 55 offer to provide me with a paper copy of the information, and they refused to provide an electronic copy. What they did was make available for inspection at their office a paper copy of the voluminous documents which I had to inspect in Mr. Stokinger’s office while he supervised me. Interestingly, the paper copy they allowed me to inspect of the proposed 16/17 budget salary detail was absent names.

Criticism should fall on…

After the SAU’s victory at the Superior Court level, when Judge Anderson mistakenly ruled that the decision to provide electronic format was at the discretion of the governmental entity, the SAU posted the salary budget detail stripped of names which made the document nearly impossible to understand and also useless for my purpose. This, however, didn’t stop the district from spinning the story and claiming they had given me everything I wanted and posted it publicly.

The Timberlane Regional School Board and SAU 55 are responsible for a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars in a completely avoidable lawsuit that betrays a disturbing desire to keep critical public information hidden. The fact that I am a school board member having had to use my own money to pay for public information and was forced to go to court to obtain information in a useful format is even more disturbing. The Timberlane School Board sat back and did nothing beyond, I suspect, enjoying the show at your expense – a show that should have never happened in the first place had they had a modicum of curiosity about the salary line or a responsible respect for the duty to make public information public. (New school board members, Guide and Dube excepted.)  Nancy Steenson, who was named in the suit and school board chairman during this royal waste of your money, is now exploring running for state senate as a Republican.

Thanks go to…….

Many people helped to bring this successful judgment to fruition. To our friends and supporters, you don’t know how much you are appreciated. Right to Know New Hampshire, especially David Taylor and Harriet Cady, helped a great deal in my pro se brief to Superior Court, as did Ed Naille of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers. Richard Lehmann of Douglas, Garvey and Leonard has been a generous and steadfast advisor and obtained a successful outcome at the Supreme Court despite being limited by my own lower court submissions. The biggest thanks of all go to Arthur, my husband of nearly 40 years, for being a partner in all this intellectually, emotionally and financially.

We can all take a big bow together because curious citizens, conscientious elected officials who are thwarted by their own fellows, and members of the media can now get public information in the most useful form in which it is available. Look what you started, Jorge! It’s a blight on Timberlane that they will go down in history as the ones who wanted to prevent this, and spent your good money trying, but in the end the court unanimously defended our right to know about our government.

[Jorge Mesa-Tejada currently has a groundless No Trespass order against him, issued by Superintendent Earl Metzler, that prevents Mr. Mesa-Tejada from entering any Hampstead School property. Mr. Mesa-Tejada is Chairman of the Hampstead Budget Committee and a critic of the Hampstead School Board’s bond initiative.]

The Press Reports

Union Leader

Eagle Tribune

Education Weekly

NHPR

Girard at Large

Indepth NH

Granite Grok

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My morning at Atkinson Academy

There is a pattern in the affairs of weak-minded people: they are used by those of ill intent who wish to stay in the shadows. That is the topic of today’s story.

At 8:30 this morning I attended a publicly posted meeting at Atkinson Academy with Homeland Security.  The meeting had been posted as a school board meeting with the safety committee. I attended during the public portion of the meeting and  was told that I could not participate in the non-public portion. After discussing the rationale for that position, I left the meeting without incident. It was perfectly matter-of-fact. The video clip of my discussion with Kelly Ward, co-chairman of the Safety Committee, is below.

But because malicious forces will  use others for their evil machinations, someone in that room falsely, and knowing it to be false, used Phil Sherwood to put out lies while shielding his or her own name. Phil Sherwood of Facebook infamy, took this and ran full tilt with it. Here is what he wrote on Friends of Education at Timberlane Facebook page today:

I placed a call to the administration regarding a very disturbing event I heard happened this morning at Atkinson Academy during school hours involving law enforcement. I heard an elected official may have tried to unlawfully force themselves into a room at the school where there was a private meeting involving homeland security and other public safety personnel. I’m reluctant to even name the elected officials name as I want to be respectful of keeping personal out-of-bounds politics off this page but I’m very frustrated and hope the administration can shed more light when it is appropriate. Altercations like this SHOULD NOT be happening in our schools. Period.

Facebook exploded.  Someone alerted the Eagle Tribune.  A reporter called me.  Much time was spent gathering backup information for her. Then, hours later, the Atkinson Police issued a statement that everything in the rumor was absolutely false.

Inline image 1

Poor put-upon Phil Sherwood, made the fool by someone more clever.

Mr. Erich Beyrent must know how it feels.  He was played the fool by someone last year when he reported on Facebook an outrageous story about me again at a closed meeting- though like Phil Sherwood, he didn’t use a name – which shows again the fingerprints of the same clever person manipulating these “public-spirited” patsies.

In Mr. Beyrent’s case, his information arose from a non-televised, non-recorded school board training session wherein I was alleged to have said that I wanted Individual Education Plans (IEPs) approved by the school board. Absolutely not true, but this didn’t stop the Facebook world from slandering me with gusto.

Here is today’s video.  Tomorrow I’ll explain why allowing subcommittee meeting in non-public to the exclusion of the board as a whole is a very, very bad practice.

 

For the curious, here is one of the postings for this meeting that can be found on the Timberlane Regional School District official Facebook Page, April 5, 2016:

The School Board and members of the Superintendent’s Leadership Team’s Safety Committee will meet in a nonpublic session on April 14 at Atkinson Academy at 8:30 a.m. The meeting will include consultation with agents from the Department of Homeland Security.

 Timberlane Regional School District's photo.

 

 

 

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Buco Defends Your Right to Know

At the April 11 Sandown Selectman meeting, Cindy Buco brought a much needed perspective to the table.  Addressing the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sandown’s Playing Field and Outdoor Classroom she said:

  1. Any  request for a Sandown selectman on any advisory committee should come through the selectmen’s office.
  2. The selectmen are to vote on who they want to designate as their representative on any advisory committee.
  3. The Sandown Selectmen should not appoint any representative to any committee unless that committee is holding their meetings in public, properly noticed, and with public minutes.

Thank you, Selectman Buco!

On March 23, Superintendent Metzler published a press release announcing the creation of a Sandown advisory committee whose public members were drawn entirely from the anti-withdrawal side of the withdrawal controversy.  In the release, Superintendent Metzler named Selectman Tombarello as a member of this committee.  Mr. Tombarello stated subsequently at a selectmen’s meeting that he was never contacted about this or agreed to such inclusion but he was happy to serve.

Thank you to Selectman Buco for preserving the authority of the board to appoint our own representatives and not permitting the superintendent to overreach himself. Thank you to Selectman Buco especially for wanting our selectmen to take a stand against the proliferation of advisory committees that do not respect the Right to Know law. Any committee working on behalf of the public should post publicly noticed meetings, be open to all members of the public, and publish meaningful and timely minutes about their decisions. Didn’t we learn our lesson from the Sandown Schools Consolidation Advisory Committee which met in secret, didn’t publish minutes and sprang their conclusions on everyone?

No elected official should be participating in any committees which do not comply with the Right to Know law.  Superintendent Metzler’s claim that these committees do not fall under the law is incorrect and a stand must be taken against this assault on our right to transparency.

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The Mysterious Auditor’s Questionnaire

A kind parent from the district forwarded me an auditor’s questionnaire she had discovered while browsing another school district website.  It happened to come from the very same auditors as Timberlane employs and was intended to be filled out by the auditor’s client, the school board.

Naturally, my first reaction was to send this questionnaire to our school board chairman and TRSB@Timberlane.net asking why I had never seen this questionnaire. To his credit, Mr. Bealo promptly replied: Nancy Steenson, our previous chairman, had no memory of it, but Rob Collins remembered it from his time as chairman.  Mr. Bealo said previous chairmen have been filling this out on their own without consultation with the board and he intends to do the same  – but because he is committed to transparency – he’ll let the board know after the fact.

Here is the questionnaire – from SAU 47.

Aug42013-14BoardSurvey (3)

You can see that this questionnaire is addressed to the ENTIRE school board.  It also claims to be an “…integral part of our auditing process.” It asks probing questions with respect to suspected fraud, relationships that could give way to unethical practices and other important things the board should keep out an open eye.

Yet I can confirm the Timberlane School Board has not seen this in the last two years, and maybe never for all I know.

Let me list how very wrong this is.

  1. The auditor should have a direct relationship with the entire board – not a single unauthorized member;
  2. The questionnaire is the board’s opportunity to direct the auditor to examine issues board members may want examined;
  3. Failing to bring this to the entire board’s attention for their input is suppressing a vital and “integral” part of any audit;
  4. Knowing that the board is not giving meaningful feedback on the audit questionnaire or the audit itself, the auditors should be reaching out to the board in public session and not accepting proforma answers on a questionnaire that may  (or may not) get submitted to them every year.

Our Business Administrator, George Stokinger, says he doesn’t see the completed questionnaire, doesn’t know if it is completed and doesn’t have a copy of it; therefore all our past questionnaires are not subject to Right to Know requests.

The auditor, a private company, is not subject to Right to Know requests.

The board defeated my motion at last Thursday’s meeting to obtain ten years of completed questionnaires from the auditor.

Why would the board have no curiosity about “an integral part” of our auditing process?

Do you have a sense that the board is working to prevent someone’s embarrassment instead of working for your best interests in seeing that your money is properly accounted for?

You should also know that prior to my insistence, the SAU board was not being told about or given the auditor’s reports for the annual SAU audits.  I didn’t even know the SAU was audited until I stumbled on a policy saying it was required – and I’m on the SAU board!

Our school board and our SAU board have an irresponsible and cavalier attitude about our audits and have permitted our auditors to grow too close to the SAU rather than having their proper focus on and direction from the board.

The board has denied my multiple requests to have the auditor before the board to present their annual audit to us as is standard business practice. Not only that but the SAU has instructed the auditor to not respond to my inquiries.  When the board found out that I had contacted the auditor privately, the policy committee under Mr. Bealo’s direction changed policy to sanction any company that gave confidential information to anyone.  (I wasn’t obtaining confidential information but that was the best the policy committee could do to intimidate the auditor.) As if that wasn’t enough, the board has denied all my attempts to get discussion about our auditors on the agenda. I think they need to be replaced.

Audits are intended to protect the public purse. Why are your representatives so indifferent to their responsibilities with respect to the audit?

This surprising situation brings to mind another question:  what other documents intended for the entire board are our chairman in the habit of signing without prior consultation or vote of the board?

P.S. Our audit for the year ending June 30, 2015 is not yet completed though by contract it is due in November. Last year it was completed 7 months late. Mr. Stokinger last year said that he was late getting information to the auditors which created the delay.

 

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How TRSB Upends Open Meeting Law

Thursday’s rather tense school board meeting began a promising discussion about the current practice around our correspondence. Few of us are happy with the way correspondence is dealt with now.  Danville’s Rob Collins stated that I was the reason the school board was forced to revise its correspondence policy. The claim is false, but the chairman’s response to the correspondence issue was particularly noteworthy.

Currently, all correspondence sent to the school board’s email of TRSB@Timberlane.net goes only to the school board chairman (and Dr. Metzler).  All other board members must wait until the next meeting to read the correspondence when the folder is passed around during the meeting itself – or available shortly before the meeting for those who can arrive early. Mrs. Dube and other members find this current arrangement disrespectful to both the board and the public who made the effort to write.

The board’s excuse for this current unacceptable arrangement is that I cannot be prevented from replying “to all” when a correspondence comes to us. First let me say that it is not against the law to communicate with a quorum outside of a meeting so long as no deliberation takes place. Although there is no law to this effect, generally accepted best practice is to attach all communications to a quorum outside of a public meeting to the next set of minutes. This includes correspondence from the public.

I communicate with a quorum of my board specifically so my communications will be placed in the permanent record. Mr. Collins likes to mislead the public into believing any communication with a quorum outside of a meeting is illegal.  It is not.  He just likes to make everyone think so as yet another way of controlling information to favor insiders.

Why do I say that?  Well, Chairman Bealo’s comments on this issue gave the game away.  He said it is perfectly alright to communicate with just three members on an issue outside of a meeting but it must not be done with a quorum.

So, this is how the TRSB turns the law on its head. The Open Meeting rules in the Right to Know law are intended to make government business public. The chairman may have deliberations with select members in private but a communication with a quorum which is to be made public in minutes is to be suppressed.

My communications to my fellow board members fall under three categories:

  • request for items to be added to the agenda….. (granted only twice in two years)
  • information of interest to the entire board
  • requests for information so the board does not duplicate my efforts

My communication is intended to inform the entire board or drive a public discussion; whereas from observation of school board meetings, you can infer what sorts of conversations are going on among the inner circle of the board and it does not touch on anything as non-deliberative as agenda items or information requests.

Here is the Right to Know law relevant to this discussion.

91-A:2-a Communications Outside Meetings. –
I. Unless exempted from the definition of “meeting” under RSA 91-A:2, I, public bodies shall deliberate on matters over which they have supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power only in meetings held pursuant to and in compliance with the provisions of RSA 91-A:2, II or III.
II. Communications outside a meeting, including, but not limited to, sequential communications among members of a public body, shall not be used to circumvent the spirit and purpose of this chapter as expressed in RSA 91-A:1.

Source. 2008, 303:4, eff. July 1, 2008.

From the NH Attorney’s Generals Memorandum on the Right to Know Law 2015, page 8:

“E-mail use should be carefully limited to avoid an inadvertent meeting, albeit one
where there is a failure to have a physical quorum at a noticed meeting place.
Simultaneous e-mails sent to a quorum of a public body by a member discussing,
proposing action on, or announcing how one will vote on a matter within the
jurisdiction of the body would constitute an improper meeting. Sequential e-mail
communications among members of a public body similarly should not be used
to circumvent the public meeting requirement. For example, e-mail among a
quorum of members of a public body in a manner that does not constitute
contemporaneous discussion or deliberation and does not involve matters over
which the body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power does not
technically constitute a meeting under the Right-to-Know law. E-mail
discussions of a quorum concerning matters over which the public body has
supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power would run counter to its
spirit and purpose.”

 

Readers note that my emails do not result in an email discussion.

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