Our View: Board members should talk openly, frankly

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The Steamboat Springs School Board's inability to appoint a new member during Monday's meeting was disappointing for both the lack of leadership and the unwillingness of board members to openly and honestly discuss the public's business in public.

Now with just one week until they are obligated to appoint a successor for former member Tom Miller-Freutel, we urge the board's four current members to use Friday's special meeting to discuss the two applicants candidly and move on with the business of appointing the best available person for the job.

The vacancy in question was created by the Sept. 1 resignation of Miller-Freutel, who cited personal reasons for his departure just 10 months after being elected in November 2005. According to state statute, school boards have 60 days to appoint a replacement member. If an appointment is not made within that time frame, the board president is tasked with making the decision.

Miller-Freutel, who was the board president, submitted his letter of resignation in mid-July even though it wasn't official until Sept. 1. The school district began advertising the board position shortly after the July announcement. Three months of searching yielded just three applicants, and that shallow pool was narrowed to two when it was discovered that one of the candidates lived outside of the seat's District 5 boundaries.

Fast forward to Monday night. After interviewing applicants Jerry Kozatch and Laura Anderson for 15 minutes, board members sought to meet in private to discuss each candidate. Superintendent Donna Howell correctly advised the board that such discussions must be held in public. Then the meeting got a little awkward.

Board member Jeff Troeger made a motion to nominate Anderson. Pat Gleason seconded the motion. But because board President Denise Connelly and member John DeVincentis voted against Anderson, the motion died.

DeVincentis then made a motion to nominate Kozatch. His motion was not seconded.

The board members - we presume because they were fearful of hurting the feelings of one or both candidates - never attempted to hash out their differences or discuss the merits of the applicants. Such a discussion at least would have let voters know what their elected representatives thought about the issue. Instead, board members scheduled a special meeting Friday to take up the issue again. We can't imagine how an additional three days will make the decision any easier, particularly when all discussion among board members about the appointment must be made during the open session of a public meeting.

Kozatch and Anderson are qualified candidates. Kozatch is a longtime Education Fund Board member and has served on the District Accountability Committee and the Parent Information Committee at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Anderson, the mother of two high school students, is actively involved in district parent information committees and is a former member of the District Accountability Committee. She created PEAKS, a support group for parents and teachers of high-ability students.

We think Kozatch and Anderson are big enough to withstand any potential criticism or questions about how they might fit on the School Board, and more importantly, we expect our elected representatives to make honest remarks and tough decisions in public. Indeed, it is the role of elected officials to talk openly and frankly about the public's issues. Steamboat Springs School Board members did neither Monday night. We hope they don't make the same mistake Friday.

Comments

Magpie 7 years, 5 months ago

I agree completely with your editorial. The Sunshine Law has an out that allows 2 members of a group to discuss issues between themselves as long as 2 does not constitute a quorum of the local body. Here is the link that explains it:

http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/PDF/OPEN%20MEETING%20REQUIREMENTS%20OF%20THE%20COLORADO%20SUNSHINE%20LAW.pdf

I wonder if the school board members intend to discuss this in private in groups of 2 prior to Friday's meeting.

When the board is at its full 5 members, then I believe that 3 is a quorum and they would be allowed to discuss issues in groups of 2, but I don't know if this holds true when the board is only at 4 members. I would appreciate if the SP&T could check this out.

Regardless of if they CAN disucss this in private groups of 2, they shouldn't. This is public business and needs to be discussed in public.

I appreciate the commitment and time that our school board members devote but I belive that body has a history of being less than forthcoming in public and using executive session to avoid public scrutiny. They need to re-learn how to function in public and that it is OK and expected for their discucssions to be open and honest.

Both candidates are highly qualified. There is only one seat. I hope we will hear the school board members state why they will chose a particular candidate. I expect that on Friday, there will be no discussion, just a vote that will miracuously have a 3-1 or 4-0 outcome.

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Scott Stanford 7 years, 5 months ago

Magpie:

Your interpretation is correct. However, it should be noted that the conversation between two public officials about public business - whether that is via e-mail, over the phone or in person - is a matter of public record. Technically, if 2 board members meet individually to talk business, they can be compelled to reveal the content of their discussion. Obviously, they would have to turn over any e-mail or tapes.

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4221 editor@steamboatpilot.com

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trouter 7 years, 5 months ago

At what point does it become blatantly obvious that the school board and / or the school district leaders are accustomed to behaving in a rude and secretive manner? This is how they manipulate personnel and funds. It is very surprising that parents and teachers accept this type of leadership behavior in our community. What kind of a message does this send to our children? Is this what we want them to learn? I thought that we were taught that whispering secrets is rude when we were in kindergarden.

But, of course, they will do whatever they do over the course of the week, and like usual they won't get caught. And next week it will be water under the bridge again, until the next time.

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