Certain Timberlane Facebook pages buzzed with anger when the superintendent’s raise and bonus were made public a few weeks ago. “Why was this information not disclosed for 5 weeks? Why are the minutes in which this was deliberated sealed?” Angry criticism and pointed emails were sent to the Timberlane and SAU boards. Of course, it does no good.
During the May 12th non-public meeting, SAU 55’s board voted to award Dr. Metzler a 3.75% raise and a 4% bonus. By contract, the bonus cannot be larger than 4% annually. (There is no contractual limit on raises.) This raise and bonus were not known publicly until this blog broke the news on June 16th.
SAU Board Votes to Continue to Seal the May 12th non-public minutes
On May 12th, the SAU board voted to seal the minutes of the non-public meeting “until they have been reviewed.”
Sound reasonable to you? It shouldn’t because it is downright pernicious and an affront to the public’s right to know what their elected officials are doing in secret – a place where many officials doing your business would like to reside if legislators would only let them. You have a right to see draft minutes within 5 business days of a public meeting – unless the board votes to seal the minutes, which the Timberlane board is now voting to do regularly with respect to non-public minutes. There is no justifiable reason for this, but it does serve a purpose, one that is against the public interest.
Funny thing is that when the SAU board reviewed the non-public minutes at their next meeting on June 15th, the board decided to continue to seal these minutes. I had motioned to unseal them. That motion failed for want of a second. That’s right – all 12 members of the board present at that meeting didn’t even want to have a discussion about what they owe the people they represent by way of disclosure. (Mrs. Dube and Mr. Spero both of Timberlane were absent.)
Why the steadfast insistence on keeping non-public minutes sealed? Let me offer some speculation. Your elected representatives from Timberlane and Hampstead had a good inkling that the raise and bonus would be unpopular news among an outspoken contingent. When something might be unpopular, the path of least resistance is to hide your voting record from public scrutiny.
In their defense, the SAU board will claim they are protecting the superintendent’s reputation. Really? Getting a 3.75% raise and a maximum bonus during an annual evaluation could do reputational harm? If so, perhaps the prudent route would be for the superintendent to refuse both.
Superintendent evaluations should be public
Now what part of a Superintendent’s evaluation should be non-public? None, in my opinion, but let’s look at the statutory exemption being claimed by your less than transparent SAU board:
(a) The dismissal, promotion or compensation or disciplining of any public employee
You can be sure that under “evaluation” your board is not disciplining the superintendent because that would be a dishonest public notice. That leaves “dismissal, promotion or compensation.” Superintendent’s can’t be promoted, so that’s out. We are left with dismissal or compensation. You can guess which one applied to this non-public meeting advertised as “evaluation.”
(c) matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person.
We have gone crazy in this state thinking all personnel matters as ordinary as an annual evaluation of a superintendent need be done in non-public. This is not required by law and should not be expected by highly paid public employees with public accountability to public bodies such as school boards and boards of selectmen. By hiding evaluations in non-public, taxpayers cannot see or hear the considerations (or lack thereof) that go in to things such as contract renewals, raises, bonuses and guidelines for improvements. The Right to Know law permits these things to be discussed in secret, but it does not require them to be discussed in secret, and well-governing bodies should not be using license to mean necessity. The practice of discussing “evaluations” in non-public is pernicious and contrary to your interests. The same is true of collective bargaining.
Superintendent’s raise and bonus
Not only did your representatives conduct the evaluation in non-public as well as the discussion of remuneration, but they also voted on a raise and a bonus in non-public. Then they sealed the minutes just to be sure no one would know what motions may have been put forward, or how anyone voted.
There was no reason to hold this vote in non-public and no reason to keep it secret but that’s the way we roll.
Will the SAU board unseal the minutes during its next meeting on October 5th? I’m not a betting gal, but my money is on “Nope,” because I’ve read those minutes.
Addendum: The May 12th meeting, most of which was non-public, was not televised or recorded. I had left that meeting early in frustration. I did not know that, when the board later left non-public session, the chairman announced the raise and bonus to a room absent any members of the public or media. Unlike last year, there was no breathless press release announcing the news. Both administration and board members were silent. The only way for the public to learn this news was to await the publication of the public minutes of May 12th. Since the SAU conveniently no longer publishes its draft minutes, the earliest possible moment the public could have become aware of the news (apart from making a Right to Know request for draft minutes) was during the June 15th meeting in which the May 12th draft minutes were approved. The June 15th meeting was also was neither televised nor recorded.