Category Archives: School Board Behavior

SB Meeting: Immature Malice on Full Display

Three board members used the Public Comment portion of the school board’s agenda last night (Feb 16, 2017) to air their grievances.  Board members cannot get items on the agenda and so must resort to Public Comment period for three minutes of free speech. The Timberlane board, you see, does not control their own agenda. As a result, their meetings are usually little more than puppet shows — of the Punch and Judy kind. Last night was different. The drama turned against Punch.

Jack Sapia, school board representative from Atkinson, is not running for re-election.  Last night was his last meeting as a board member and he decided to go out with a bang.  Mr. Sapia read a list of objectionable incidents contrived by Chairman Bealo and then called for Bealo’s resignation from the board.  Bealo pretended nothing had happened and moved on.  Fortunately social media and the press are not moving on.

One particular incident Mr. Sapia related involved me.  According to Sapia, before the October 6, 2016 school board meeting, Bealo bragged to some board members that he was going to “set me up” with an anonymous donation.

Sure enough, I objected to accepting an anonymous donation, as I always do, and Bealo shot back with some quick insults calling me the busybody Aunt Bea from the old TV series, Mayberry RFD.  Without knowing**  about the “set up,” Sapia joined in disparaging my concerns, although minus Bealo’s personal insults.

Stefanie Dube showed remarkable insight and backbone to call them both out.  She was the only person on the board to understand that malicious behavior towards one is a threat to all – eventually. Mr. Sapia now knows it as well.  Perceptively, Mrs. Dube told Bealo that he had to have known that the anonymous donation would elicit my criticism.  Bealo put on a good show of innocent indignation, showing what bold-faced lying looks like in real life.

According to Sapia, Bealo then gloated about his success and enjoyed a laugh in front of him with the same confreres after the meeting.

You can watch the immature malice in this 6 minute video from the October 2016 meeting:

Bealo donation setup

Mr. Sapia should be given credit for pulling back the curtain on the evil puppet show and I thank him for it. To hear all of Mr. Sapia’s complaints, start at 13 minutes into this video:

TRSB Meeting Feb 16, 2017

Vote wisely in March.

** A previous version of this post reported that Mr. Sapia knew about the “set up” before the meeting.  He corrects my misapprehension and affirms that he knew about the plot only afterwards when he was present with the inner circle of board members.  I apologize to Mr. Sapia for the error.

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Pinocchio Academy, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning

Another RTK Suit against SAU 55

“Petition seeks release of minutes from meeting on SAU 55 superintendent evaluation”

 Another RTK Suit Against SAU 55

2 Comments

Filed under Right to Know issues, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Behavior

NH School Boards Association: not working for you

When your tax dollars work against your interests, something is wrong.

I attended the New Hampshire School Boards Association “Annual New School Board Orientation and Board Chair Workshops” on May 3, 2016. Since I am not a new board member, I asked to attend the board chair workshop and was kindly given leave to do so. This fried Timberlane’s chairman Peter Bealo who said during the workshop that he would not comment because I was present.  Mr. Bealo’s comment wasn’t the only objectionable takeaway from the instruction/discussion that night.

The workshop was broken into three parts.

PART ONE: “Conducting Effective School Board Meetings,”  a lecture by their resident lawyer, Barrett Christina, who is also NHSBA’s Deputy Executive Director. He suggested a number of things which are intended to serve boards very well, but which I heartily believe are not in the best interest of the public:

  1. Establish a consent agenda for “routine matters, such as minutes and monthly expenses, which can be approved together without discussion.”  I wish our board got monthly expense reports!  Your board, however, has no interest in “micromanaging” the affairs of the SAU so they don’t want to see any numbers ever, but you can be sure if we were given monthly expense reports that they would be worth a comment or two – and even a question to the Business Administrator. As for our minutes, these have often taken the form of political whitewashes for what actually transpires in our meetings. Not infrequently in the past, my vote has been mistakenly recorded.

A consent agenda works for legislation at the State House.  It does not work at the board level where everything should be open for comment and question. Why else is it being given to us for a vote?

Peter Bealo complained in the workshop that it takes his board forever to get through minutes.  He didn’t add that our minutes in the past have been riddled with issues. My objections to the inaccuracies and whitewashes in our minutes past has become an embarrassment to the board.  The correct response is to improve the minutes, which I’m happy to say have considerably improved of late.

2. Mr. Christina advocates that minutes should be nothing more than a record of the action taken by the board and need include no more than what is set out by statute – those present, time and place, motions and brief summary of discussion. He emphasized “brief.”  Following this advice would make our main minutes as skeletal as our non-public minutes.  This does not serve the public’s interest and is a prime example of how the NHSBA is advising school board chairman and school board members generally to put their interests above the interests of the public they have been elected to serve.

Attorney Christina’s advice on minutes should have been

  • don’t make your minutes political in any way
  • accurately and fairly capture public comment
  • fairly set out the reasons for votes both in support and against all motions
  • correctly record everyone’s vote

Please understand that I’m not criticizing the work of any employee in my comments because I know that what is expected in these minutes comes from higher authorities than the minute writer – and that is the issue here.

3. Mr. Christina also emphasized that “New Business” should not have any surprises. Currently New Business is the only place on the agenda where TRSB members can bring up issues.  Our opportunity to get issues included on the agenda is minuscule. All three of my motions to add things to future agendas were soundly rejected by the board at the April 21 meeting. TRSB also voted down discussing a registered letter we received with serious concerns about our Articles of Agreement.  Mr. Christina’s advice, in my opinion, erects another impediment to elected officials in conducting their representation.

4. Mr. Christina also said that policies should be ready for board approval when they come out of policy committee and that really there should be no need for multiple readings. Yes, this is what our board would like, too, so no one really has to think about their primary function and just entrust it to a few on the policy committee who are outnumbered by administration – if they should ever again have a difference of opinion now that I have been removed from the policy committee.

In fairness, a few good  suggestions did come out of the discussion.

  • Mr. Christina suggested that subcommittee minutes should be included in agenda packets.  TRSB as a whole never sees committee minutes.  Oddly enough, I motioned at the April 21th school board meeting to have all standing committee draft minutes emailed to the board when they are prepared.  TRSB  voted this down.
  • A chairman in the audience said that her board has an agenda heading; “Agenda items for next meeting.”  (Someone probably took this chairman aside and browbeat some sense into her later.)
  • Someone else in the audience suggested  a “two-week rule” whereby something introduced to the board in one meeting can be voted only only at the next meeting.  This prevents the board from being steamrollered.  TRSB has no such policy or procedure. We are as flat as cardboard cutouts.

PART TWO:   “Building Positive Relations with the Public and the Press.”

Much of this discussion was taken up with techniques for suppressing board members with minority opinions from speaking to the press.  By coincidence a chairman sitting next to me said, “I don’t agree with that. Haven’t they heard about Plaistow?”

“That was me,” I said.

“Thank you,” he responded. “I give that article to all my board members.”

He is referring  TRSB’s School Board Rules fiasco in 2014 that disallowed individual board members from speaking to the press or criticizing a board decision in public.  The NH ACLU stepped in to rescue our First Amendment rights, not to mention our duty as elected representatives of our towns.

Yes, despite the black eye Timberlane got when mightily beaten up in the press, the NHSBA is still urging board chairmen to reign in their members so that the press gets a unified message.  Not only that but School Board member ethics policy was brought up as a way to entrap board members into behaving as they are told.  The ethics policy, which all board members are asked to sign, requires members to support all decisions made by the board. (I refuse to sign this because of this provision and don’t you think Mr. Bealo piped up to say, “She won’t even sign the Ethics Policy!”) Ted Comstock,  NHSBA Executive Director, said that an elected board member could be removed from the board for consistently violating policy.

This is patently false, but why not instill this falsehood in chairmen to embolden their persecution of minority opinion on their boards?  By law, elected officials can be removed from office for only two reasons – stealing and violation of confidentiality with a material consequence.

Someone in the audience getting into the spirit of things said that the liability insurance provided to board members would not extend to rogue board members violating policy.  I wonder how that would work when challenged in court: unconstitutional policy leads to (illegal) withholding of board member’s liability insurance?

PART THREE: Board Chair Roundtable and Best Practices

Much of the roundtable discussion had to do with suppressing public comment at school board meetings.  It was received wisdom in the room that no boards should respond to public comment. It was said that meetings are not a forum for educating the public. And that, in a nutshell, is the attitude that travels like a virus from the NHSBA to every school board in the state. We, the almighty school board, do not have to answer to you, peon parents and taxpayers!   It is exactly this warped attitude that justifies chairmen in having parents shut down at meetings and/or seeking their arrest as happened in Alton, NH.  http://aclu-nh.org/aclu-nh-settles-alton-free-speech-case-for-42500/

Mr. Christina also encouraged chairmen to have their boards adopt a policy that limits public comment to agenda items only.

You got an issue?  You can’t handle an issue! Speak to the agenda or don’t speak at all.

CONCLUSION

Ask yourself, as I have, who these misguided opinions are serving. It is clearly not the elected officials who have an obligation to represent their constituents with every atom of their best efforts and to respond to their concerns. To me, it is clear that this organization exists to advance the interests of SAUs and puppet school boards. They do this also by active lobbying at the state legislature, too.

If NHSBA lost its funding, I would salvage only their model policy bank and their collective agreement database, both of which could be maintained by dedicated volunteers. What about their legal advice service? Since the district is NHSBA’s client, not individual school board members, the association does not give advice to individual elected officials. For those districts without boards that allow unlimited legal expenses as does TRSD, this function could easily be taken over by the NH Municipal Association.

Looking for cuts, Gov. Hassan?  Let me point the way.

The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect any organization of which I am a member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under School Board Behavior, Taxes

Policy vs. Practice

Timberlane Policy DJE

BIDDING REQUIREMENTS
The Superintendent is required to get written competitive bids on purchases of supplies, materials, equipment, and contractual services in the amount of $10,000 or more. As a general rule, purchases of $1,000 or more per item will require at least three competitive documented quotes for the open market. All purchases made in the open market shall be consummated after careful evaluation.

In May 2014, your current board added the following: “Existing services that continue to meet the needs of the district shall be subject to an annual review and may not need to go out to bid.”

This is the pernicious result:

To me, the most flagrant example of the mismanagement of your money is the board’s refusal to insist that all contracts go out to bid on a regular basis. Our auditing arrangement is badly in need of a change because our annual audits are regularly 8 months late and are given to the SAU instead of the school board which is the authority that nominally commissions the audit and is the responsible body for dealing with weaknesses.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Expenditures, School Board Behavior, School Board Functioning, Taxes

School Board Shuts Down Info Requests

Here are some clips from the Nov. 19th school board meeting.  They concern two motions I made for information – one about the Smarter Balanced results and the other about a question of out-of-district tuition fees for students with IEPs.

Why would the school board not want timely, actionable data on test results?  Why would the school board not want to know how tuition is charged out-of-district students?

You will note that Mrs. Steenson lets the administration speak without being acknowledged and she allows the superintendent to speak to me disrespectfully and in a bullying fashion. I asked for specific data.  He tells me we are not getting it until he decides we are prepared to understand it  – sometime next spring when it is bundled with school action plans. Yippee.

I admit to having a hard time articulating a crisp motion in the last clip, but the thought was simple enough.

P.S. I do not control the photo that the software selects for the clips.  At least, I don’t know how to control it. The intention was not to single out Mrs. Sherman.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under School Board Behavior, The Mushroom Farm

SAU Violates Policy to Offer Metzler Early Renewal

Not only did your SAU board vote to renew Dr. Metzler’s contract under total cloak of darkness, but they violated their own policy to do so last night. The policy was not waived nor was it even mentioned. (Thank you to a reader for bringing this policy to my attention*)

SAU Policy CBC

SAU ADMINISTRATOR CONTRACT
New contracts, renewals or extensions for SAU administrators will be considered at the spring meeting of the SAU each year. A majority vote by the SAU Board will authorize the Chairperson to sign the contract on behalf of the SAU with the SAU administration.


This irregularity has the result of stripping any newly elected members to both the Hampstead and Timberlane School Boards of any say in the continuation of the superintendent’s term. This disenfranchised the public.

Now look at all the irregularities associated with your boards’ actions concerning the Metzlers.

  • TRSB went into an illegal non-public to discuss a contract for hiring Mrs. Metzler back in March of 2014.
  • Mrs. Metzler was hired as a consultant to the district in a newly created role. The board was told she was the only person in the state with the necessary qualifications. We subsequently found out this is not correct.
  • Mrs. Metzler’s contract was renewed without a vote of the board and about six months before it was due to expire.
  • Mrs. Metzler’s contract was renewed, extended to five years and signed without the knowledge of the board as a whole.
  • Mrs. Metzler’s five-year contract does not contain a non-appropriation clause therefore by law it should have gone before the voters.
  • Dr. Metzler’s contract is voted to be renewed outside of the prescribed time as set by policy, which is the spring after elections, and without notice to the public.

It is important to note that all these actions were taken by your elected officials. Neither Dr. Metzler nor his wife are responsible for the behavior of your school boards (who make up the SAU board).

About the Contract

The superintendent’s contract itself has very unfavorable terms should the SAU board want to change superintendents. The contract must be bought out unless the superintendent is released “for cause,” and I can assure you that any “cause” would end up in court. This is why it is a very bad business move to offer long contracts and there is no need of it. Keep in mind that the superintendent by contract can leave at any time with notice so the length of the contract doesn’t protect the district from change but only subjects it to Draconian consequences should we wish a new superintendent.

Here is Dr. Metzler’s first contract:  Metzler 2012-2015 (3)

The first renewal added an addendum stating the contract was renewed on the same terms until 2017.

* The reason “superintendent contract renewal” should have been put on the agenda was to allow board members to do research ahead of time. Honestly, I doubt I would have looked at policy in this case, but I would have had a chance to do so – and compare our superintendent’s contract with others around the region.  That I would have done. Your board consistently abuses the discretion they have been granted to discuss things in secret and it only ever works to your disadvantage.

4 Comments

Filed under Non-public session abuse, Sandown Issues, SAU 55 Issues, School Board Behavior, Spanish Consultant Contract

House of Marked Cards

Danville Selectman Shawn O’Neil made a devastating public comment at last night’s school board meeting. He read a letter outlining the complete chain of events that resulted in Danville being given, mistakenly, information Danville had requested but which the school board refused to release. Let’s call this the Danville Impact Fee Controversy.

Here is Mr. O’Neil’s letter:

Dear Timberlane School Board and Dr. Metzler,

I am here tonight to address the false accusations that were annunciated by Dr. Metzler at the September 3, 2015 meeting when Dr. Farah notified the School Board that we did not need any support from the School District for our School Impact Fee analysis. Dr. Farah was asked by Mrs. Steenson if the school provided the student data and she responded that they had. She did not state that the data was used for the town study. Dr. Metzler’s response was that “It was not authorized and you have it illegally”.

I would like to point to you Exhibit A – Which is an email sent from the Danville Board of Selectmen Assessing/Land Use Clerk, Ms. Janet Denison, to Mr. George Stockinger, Ms. Kathleen Smith, and Dr. Earl Metzler outlining our request for information relative to this study. This email was dated January 22, 2015 at 9:34am. This was the email version of the request that was sent via US Mail as well.

On the same Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 4:59pm Ms Denison received an email from Mr. John Holland, Technology Director of TRSD, which indicated “As requested, attached is the list of Danville students by grade level and residence address, in Excel format.” This is illustrated by Exhibit B.

Then 22 minutes later a subsequent email was sent by Mr. Holland requesting to recall the message “Danville List”. Ms. Denison responded at 6:21pm to Mr. Holland via email, “What do you mean?” Ms. Denison called Mr. Holland’s phone on Friday, January 23 on two occasions asking for clarifications about why his list was being recalled. This is illustrated by exhibit C. Questions that Ms. Denison had included: was the data incorrect, incomplete, or outdate? Later that morning Ms. Denison forwarded the list to Mr. Bruce Mayberry from BLM Planning who was conducting the survey on behalf of the Town of Danville. Ms. Denison indicated to Mr. Mayberry that the data way be incomplete or incorrect. This was done after two phone calls went unanswered to Mr. Holland.

On Monday January 26, 2016 Ms. Cathy Belcher sent the following email to Ms. Denision as a high priority – Exhibit D which indicated ‘… the divulgence of this information may be in violation of FERPA laws.”

On Wednesday, January 28, 2015 Mr. Bruce Mayberry sent Ms. Cathy Belcher an email outlining the receipt of the recalled data, and supplied 2 pages of supporting documentation to ask for reconsideration – Exhibit E. No response followed from Ms. Belcher to Mr. Mayberry about this matter.

This information was never supplied to the School Board.

On March 12, 2015 I, acting as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, sent a follow up to Dr. Metzler to discuss the outstanding issue that remains with respect to our School Impact fee Study – Exhibit F. You will also notice in this exchange that Danville Representative Mr. Collins was involved in this discussion and after a few email exchanges between him and me, indicated “this isn’t happening. I’ve confirmed it, it’s a FERPA violation.” This is illustrated by exhibit F.

I will disclose now that Mr. Collins and I had a phone conversation relative to this matter around this time frame and I disclosed to him that we already had the data from the SAU. His response was, “You didn’t destroy it yet?”

Now let us fast forward to the April 2, 2015 School Board meeting (Time 3:13:45 -3:24:05) when Dr. Metzler recommended to the School Board that they waive School Board policy to support the release of this information to the Town of Danville. This recommendation was based on discussions with Dr. Metzler, Dr. Farah, and Cathy Belcher in which it was noted there was no FERPA violation but rather a school board policy in place. Dr. Metzler’s office was in possession of Mr. Mayberry’s 2 page explanation of why the data was needed from Jan 28, 2015. This information was not provided to the School Board for your deliberations.

On May 7, 2015 I presented more information to the School Board which resulted in a May 21, agenda item on this topic which Mr. Mayberry attended at our expense.

On Sept 3, 2015 Dr. Farah indicated to the School Board that we had the data from the SAU but she did not indicate that we had used the data in our School Impact Fee study. Mr. Mayberry, as you may recall from his May 21, 2015 appearance is able to obtain this data in a statistical form from the State. It is not as accurate as having actual verifiable data as obtained from the District. The Town of Danville and Mr. Mayberry used the State statistical data knowing that the School District was not going to assist in our effort to obtain the data.

On Monday Sept 14, 2015 the Town of Danville received a letter from the District attorney outlining some of these events. This is illustrated as Exhibit G.

Dr. Metzler and Mr. Collins, how can you say that the District is ‘transparent’ to this community when you are not transparent to your fellow Board members? It is clear that Ms. Steenson, as Chairwoman, was not aware of the release of information by the SAU. I suspect than many of your fellow Board members were not aware either. I have seen in our schools, that you oversee, a very powerful and inspirational passage, “Character – Doing the right thing when nobody is watching”. How would you define your Character at this time?

Upon receipt of a written apology to the Danville Board of Selectmen and our staff, as a courtesy to the district, we will destroy the data, which we believe is NOT a FERPA violation but a School Board policy violation which is NOT applicable to the Town of Danville.

Thank you,

Shawn O’Neil

Chairman

Board of Selectmen

Town of Danville, New Hampshire      10.1.15 ltr to the school (1)

The Danville Impact Fee Controversy: September 17th non-public session

At the school board’s previous meeting on September 17th, the board went into non-public session on the grounds of reputation (91-A:3, II (c)). The topic was Danville’s acquisition of data for their impact fee study. In no way does the law allow this topic to be discussed in non-public.  It is not one of the clearly listed subject matter exclusions from mandatory public discussion. S0oooo,  the name of an employee was used as a pretext to hide this discussion in non-public. Your school board regularly stretches the law to keep uncomfortable realities from you. Thanks to the Danville Board of Selectmen you now know how the information got to Danville.

This time the district was thwarted in its efforts to keep unpleasant truths from the public ear, but the board nevertheless continues to do its best to distance itself from the truth in its minutes. Let’s take the non-public minutes from that meeting of the 17th.  It says that I seconded a motion to go into non-public. I don’t remember doing this, though my memory is not perfect, but given my mistrust of non-public sessions generally, I don’t think I provided the second.  Wouldn’t you know it?  The Vimeo cuts off just at the moment a second is being requested.

Then the September 17th non-public minutes go on to say that “A brief discussion ensued concerning the Danville Board of Seletman (sic) and student information.”

This is a more accurate one sentence description than is normally provided; however, the brevity of the discussion is exaggerated. The minutes show exactly two minutes elapsed, when in fact the discussion lasted well in excess of ten and I would say closer to twenty minutes because it was a far ranging discussion with a number of people jumping in. I had time to eat an entire plate of carrots and grapes so you can be sure it was not a two-minute conversation.

Same Old: The August 27th non-public session

You may not think this abuse of non-public discussions and its subsequent misrepresentation in minutes is as big a problem as I do, so let me give you some recent background.

On August 27, 2015 the board went into another illicit non-public session to discuss the possibility of launching legal action against Danville selectman Joshua Horns should he refuse to surrender either his seat on the Timberlane Budget Committee or on the Danville BOS. During this meeting I protested that it was an illegal non-public and that I wanted my protest recorded in the minutes. Here’s what the minutes ended up recording:


A discussion ensued regarding the implied threat of legal action by an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions.

Motion: Mr. Bealo motioned to authorize Madam Chair Steenson to compose a letter to Joshua Horns to accompany the attorney’s letter requesting he make a choice of which position to serve: Danville Board of Selectman or TRSD Budget Committee member, as serving on both constitutes incompatibility of offices. Seconded was made by Mr. Sapia.

With no further discussion the motion passed by a vote of 6-1-0 (Mrs. Green opposed).


These minutes do not faithfully describe the actual nature of the discussion or my protest of it being done in non-public.  To rectify this, I made the following motion during the next PUBLIC meeting on September 3, 2015:

MOTION:  “To correct the non-public minutes of August 27 to read: ‘A discussion ensued regarding the possibility of launching legal action against an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions.  Mrs. Green objected to the non-public as being inappropriate and illegal.’ “

In another proud moment for your school board, they voted down the motion to amend the minutes which means

  1. the non-public minutes are not accurate in their description of this discussion;
  2. my protest about the non-public session was not recorded in the non-public minutes.

But it gets better.

When the minutes for the September 3, 2015 (public) meeting came out, here’s what was recorded:

“Mrs. Green motioned to change and add wording of the discussion held during the non-public session.

For those who may not know, all motions made at public meetings should be recorded and minuted as they were said – not some Cliff Notes freeze-dried version.

Soooo, on October 1, 2015 I tried once again to get into the public record my motion to correct the public minutes of Sept. 3, 2015…. and Mrs. Steenson cut me off. The board directed the recording secretary to go back, watch the Vimeo recording, adjust the minutes, and with that they blithely and irresponsibly accepted them.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the trouble with this is that all these minutes are legal records of events, which is why it is so important for the board not to record the truth and to substitute a facsimile for history.  What a fine example for the moral instruction of our students.

Post Script

Lest you think it is only I who have issues with honesty, read the Tri-Town Times article about Hampstead’s school board feeling duped. http://tritowntimes.net/2015/09/school-district-misinformed-parents-about-controversial-program/

Leave a comment

Filed under Closing Sandown Central, Non-public session abuse, Pinocchio Academy, Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, Withdrawal Feasibility Study, Withdrawing from District

How Your School Board Hides the Truth

Last night’s school board meeting was a raucous one but most of the shouting happened before the camera started rolling.

First, the immature drama

Chairman Steenson instructed me to change my seat at the board table.  I calmly but emphatically refused.  Ms. Steenson reacted like a mother with few coping skills to a daughter in defiance. She insisted and moved the name plates.  I refused and helpfully suggested she call the police.  At that she stormed out of the room clutching her cell phone saying, “I just might do that!”  When she returned, she asked Mr. Sapia to please sit at the end of the table so Mr. Spero, who arrived quite late to the meeting, would not have to sit at the end of the table.  Mr. Sapia did not do so.

Then, revenge

Mr. Sapia later felt the chairperson’s wrath when she tried mightily to shut him down during Other Business. Coincidentally, Mr. Spero was the one who voiced his support for Mr. Sapia speaking to his issue about the athletic wing during Other Business. Mrs. Steenson’s vigorous attempt to shut down Mr. Sapia can be seen around 10:45 pm when the Vimeo is posted. (The Sept. 3 meeting is available now as a live stream capture in five parts but the last part of the meeting does not play….sigh.(http://livestream.com/TRSD/TRSB)

We mustn’t dress the mannequins in the window

Mrs. Steenson takes it upon herself to shut anyone down who wants to contribute something she doesn’t want to be heard. That is her idea of being a chairman, along with arranging the boardroom table. You can also see her shut me down when I bring to the board’s attention that Mr. Collins has a tactic of moving outrageous dollar figures forward so the board can feel virtuous in approving a more modest number that is probably larger than could have been hoped for in an honest approach to things. You can see this little drama at about 58 minutes into the meeting. The board voted to add $350,000 to the Fund Balance Retention on top of the $250,000 they previously voted to squirrel away. This is the harm that comes with running ridiculously high surpluses. It’s your money, but you can’t have it back. We need a rainy day fund…. that’s only prudent…even though we normally have a $2 million surplus. I called this fund a moral hazard and poor Messrs. Sapia and Bealo thought I was insulting the ethics of the towns’ selectmen!  A definition of “moral hazard,”  a term used in finance, is below for their benefit.

Now, the duplicity

At the beginning of the meeting Mr. Collins motioned that approval of the minutes should be moved to the end of our meetings. He argued that this is for consideration of presenters. I believe it is to keep the public from learning how controversial the minutes often are. Last night was a prime example.

The non-public minutes for Aug. 27 came up for approval.  Here is the summary of a 35 minute non-public session:

“A discussion ensued regarding the implied threat of legal action by an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions.”

That is as false as a sidewalk Rolex in New York City .   Mr. Horns has not threatened to sue us or even implied that he would do so. We, on the other hand, have threatened to sue him, as evidenced in a letter the board subsequently sent to Mr. Horns.

I proposed this amendment to correct the historical record:

“A discussion ensued regarding the possibility of launching legal action against an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions. Mrs. Green objected to the non-public as being inappropriate and illegal.”

The board voted against accepting my amendment by a vote of 1-7 (Mr. Blair abstained as he was not present during the non-public session.)

Why was it so important for your school board to hide the truth from you and history?  You will have to ask your own representatives, but here’s my guess: they had to hide the fact that they were not in compliance with the law…. but they overlooked one eency weensy provision for permitted non-public sessions:  the threat of legal action has to be in writing.

91-A:3, II    (e) Consideration or negotiation of pending claims or litigation which has been threatened in writing or filed against the public body or any subdivision thereof, or against any member thereof because of his or her membership in such public body, until the claim or litigation has been fully adjudicated or otherwise settled. Any application filed for tax abatement, pursuant to law, with any body or board shall not constitute a threatened or filed litigation against any public body for the purposes of this subparagraph.

As a point of information, this section of 91-A will be changing in January to permit non-public discussion of litigation contemplated by a public body, so you can decide how much the board should be beaten up about this violation. Lying about it in the minutes and not recording my objection to the entire proceeding is another matter altogether.

The moral** of the story:  Don’t trust what you read in TRSB minutes.

Moral Hazard:

  1. lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences, e.g., by insurance.

http://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=moral%20hazard%20definition

Coming soon:  How the board spent $30,000 wastefully, and Superintendent “Goals.”

** “Moral” used in this sense means “a message.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Non-public session abuse, School Board Behavior, Taxes, Withdrawing from District

How to Fix Non-public Meeting Abuse

Since issues with non-public meetings have come up on Friends of Education at Timberlane, as well as in the comment section of this blog, I would like to share my proposed solution for non-public meeting abuse. This essay was written last year in October and is not in response to anything recent.  It is not in any way an implied criticism of the selectmen of  Sandown and Danville nor is it intended to suggest that they have abused the Right to Know law with respect to non-public sessions.

Secrecy is to politics what vinyl siding is to termites which is why New Hampshire’s Constitution states “…the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.” Nevertheless, some government business does need to be done out of the public eye for everyone’s best interests. How can we balance the public’s right to access with government’s need for secrecy?

New Hampshire has addressed this question in its Right to Know law which sets out the legally permissible reasons for public bodies to conduct non-public meetings (specifically RSA 91-A:3). I believe this law is badly in need of revision because it is widely violated with impunity.

In my short seven years of civic participation, I have found that local public bodies go into non-public more than they strictly need to, their discussion often wanders off allowable non-public topics, and sometimes the very reason for the non-public session does not fall under the law’s allowable non-public topics. Citizens are helpless to stop these abuses because they are by their nature secret and when they are exposed, the only recourse is a private suit against a public body.

Before I share my simple solution, let me give you a few examples of non-public meeting abuse from my own experience. Earlier this year, the Timberlane School Board hired the superintendent’s wife as a consultant. Contract discussion was done in non-public citing 91:A:3(a) which relates to the “…dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee.” A consultant is not rightly considered a public employee. (The consultant’s contract was not made public. I obtained it via a Right to Know information request just after being elected to the school board.)

In 2013, the Timberlane School Board cited 91-A:3(i), to discuss mold in portable classrooms. This RSA allows non-public consideration of matters relating to emergency functions intended to thwart widespread damage or injury. Mold in portable classrooms or anywhere in school buildings may be a health concern, but it is hardly a security issue. The public had every right to know the condition of the portables.

Please don’t think that the Timberlane School District is the only one pushing the boundaries of non-public meetings. I could continue with examples involving other subsections of 91-A:3 from other public bodies. Some examples would be outright violations of the law, while others legally apply the provision to situations I believe are much better dealt with in public, such as performance reviews of superintendents, town managers, and other senior staff.

The Right to Know law does require documentation of non-public meetings by minutes. This is hardly enough because minutes can be sealed and kept from public view for decades. They can also be vacuous. My school district’s non-public minutes, as an example, contain one or two sentences about the discussion topic, as vaguely worded as possible, and nothing else concerning the discussion. Whether the non-public session went for five minutes or an hour and a half, the minutes are the same and absent details of discussion. Add to this the widespread misconception that everything said in non-public is absolutely confidential, and you have a perfect information blackout to the public even if the minutes aren’t sealed.

Any solution must:

  1. Create a disincentive to enter into non-public discussion so only those that are absolutely necessary and legal will be conducted;
  2. Shorten the length of non-public discussion to prevent wandering;
  3. Permit the public to see the legitimacy of every minute and topic in non-public discussion;
  4. Prevent unnecessary sealing of minutes and unreasonably long sealing periods which now are arbitrarily imposed without accountability;
  5. Free members to reveal abuses that take place within non-public meetings.

My proposal: require a verbatim transcript of all non-public meetings called under those subsections of the law frequently abused (viz; a,b,c,d, e and I). Transcripts may be redacted for reputation and privacy but the redactions (not deleted) must remain available for review by a judge. Any failure to completely transcribe or improperly redact will absolve all participants of their duty of confidentiality on the specific matter involved. Minutes may be sealed but the permitted length of time they may be sealed will be related to strict necessity, not arbitrary decision.

Such a simple requirement is a big disincentive and will quickly put an end to illegal secrecy. Elected officials are going to fling themselves against the crowbar as we try to lift off the siding. They will say this will impose costs. They will call it an unfunded mandate.

In fact, the costs of my proposal are almost certainly much smaller than lawsuits municipalities might fight and lose against citizens who pursue their right to know as a result of non-public session abuses. Not only that but towns and school districts can manage their costs by being much more circumspect about the length and frequency of non-public meetings.

As for being an unfunded mandate, the cost is entirely controllable and in many cases will not add to costs at all. School districts employ full-time people for whom minutes are just one of their responsibilities. The same can be said for many municipalities and towns. For those towns and commissions that pay a secretary by the hour, the solution would be to keep non-public sessions under ten minutes and everybody wins.

Donna Green is a Sandown representative on the Timberlane School Board and on the board of SAU 55. She is also a member of Right to Know NH, a group working to strengthen the Right to Know law. Her opinions are her own. TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com

1 Comment

Filed under School Board Behavior, Spanish Consultant Contract

Breaking News: Ward out as Chair, Collins in, Steenson Exceeds Her Authority Again

In a new development of the Sandown Withdrawal Feasibility Study Committee established by the district, Co-chairman, Kelly Ward from Sandown, has resigned as co-chair.  (Note:  this is not the Sandown Study established by the Sandown BOS.) The school board chairman, Nancy Steenson, took it upon herself to issue this astonishing statement:


TO: Sandown Withdrawal Feasibility Study Committee

FROM: Nancy Steenson, Chair and Peter Bealo, Vice Chair

DATE: May 29, 2015

REFERENCE: Committee Officers

Due to the demands of serving as co-chair of the Sandown Withdrawal Feasibility Study

Committee and in light of current family and work obligations, Mr. Kelly Ward will no

longer be serving as co-chairman of the committee effective immediately. Mr. Ward will

remain on the committee as school board representative for the town of Sandown and in

doing so will remain committed to providing his very best to the citizens of Sandown and

the school district as a whole. Mr. Ward is highly regarded on the school board and on this

committee and we place high value on his contributions to the district as well as his

willingness to participate in this important study.

As appointing authority for this school board committee per RSA 195:25, and with the full

support of Mr. Bealo, my vice chair, I am appointing Mr. Rob Collins, school board

representative from the town of Danville as the Withdrawal Feasibility Study Committee

chairman. Mr. Collins is more than qualified to lead the committee’s charge as he is an

articulate, focused and organized chairman with a history of running effective and efficient

For clarification purposes, this is not a co-chair appointment, but a chairmanship. The

committee’s next point of order will be to select a new vice chair and secretary.

In closing, both Peter and I wish the committee every success in producing the feasibility

study report and look forward to our continued work as it relates to providing the very

best public education to the students of Atkinson, Danville, Plaistow and Sandown.


Once again, Mrs. Steenson is exceeding her authority.  A chairman has no authority outside of meetings to take any action whatsoever without the vote of the entire school board. Furthermore, the committee has an existing co-chair:  Cindy Buco from Sandown who by rights should now be the full chairman of the committee.  Mr. Collins is ever-present and is parachuted in to situations when they are not going in the pre-approved direction.  He instigates censures, forces resignations, steers deliberations, and generally fixes “problems.” He is the last person who should be chairing this committee.  The Capital Improvement Plan Committee, which he also chairs, is creaking into oblivion. Perhaps he envisions that same fate for this committee.

This is an affront to Sandown whose own Cindy Buco should be leading this committee so that she can ensure that Sandown’s interests in a full exploration of the options available are respected.  Mrs. Steenson should resign her position for repeatedly not knowing the limits of her authority.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sandown Issues, School Board Behavior, Withdrawal Feasibility Study, Withdrawing from District