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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Clarkston School Board members tweeting during school board meetings

Clarkston School Board members disrespectfully tweeting during school board meetings

Steve Hyer, Elizabeth Egan, and Cheryl McGinnis were tweeting, in some cases very disrespectful comments about fellow board members during three school board meetings this past spring.  Please, when you vote on November 4th 2014, remember to ONLY vote for the two candidates that have the maturity to be Clarkston school board members, Rosalie Lieblang and Donald Deering.  Here is one article about the tweeting:
By Phil Custodio

"School board candidates talk tweets, communication

  October 30, 2014 - Contentious communication facilitated by social media was a issue this past year at Clarkston School Board meetings.

This past May, the board sought the opinion of the school attorney regarding posts to Twitter during meetings ("Legal opinion sought on tweets at meeting," May 07, 2014).

The candidates were asked their opinion on the matter.

Steve Hyer, who posted about 36 tweets such as "why do we need a supt if Lieblang is going to be voted to run the district" and "it's a discussion/Spanish Inquisition" during the April 28 meeting, said board deliberations and decisions should take place at board meetings and not outside of them.

"The Open Meetings Act and Mr. Butler state this very clearly," Hyer said. "Board members should not be deliberating outside the board meetings, regardless of how it's done, personally or electronically. Board members are free to share their individual opinions, but at no times should any deliberation toward a decision occur. Deliberations and decisions should only take place at the board table in public."

Democracy only works when citizens are engaged and informed, said Hyer, who did not share the Tweets made during the April 28 meeting with other board members or the audience.

"Unfortunately, some members of the board have taken advantage of meetings that had low public attendance and were not videotaped to treat the superintendent in an unprofessional manner and discuss issues that were not on the agenda. Any form of providing transparency is positive, and it also prevents such bullying from occurring," he said.

Twitter is an excellent way to connect with our community to provide near real time updates, he said.

"I believe this increases transparency and gets more people involved in the governance of our school district. If our citizenry is engaged and educated on the issues, we will have more success as a school district and community moving forward," he said. "Twitter is also very beneficial as messages can be scheduled ahead of time. It serves a good purpose to schedule congratulatory tweets to those being recognized by the board of education. It is also a good way to let people know what actually goes on at a board meeting. I've heard personally from over 100 people that they appreciate being kept up to date."

Just like with personal conversations, emails, Facebook posts, and newspaper/media comments, board members have to be careful that they are not violating the Open Meetings Act, he said.

"If board members engage in any communication with more than one other board member that is working towards a decision of the board, deliberating, they are violating the Open Meetings Act, which states all discussions and deliberations must only occur at the board table in public at a public meeting. Twitter is no different than any other communication method," he said. "I see any communication method, including the newspaper, to conduct board discussions as inappropriate."

Posting information that is on the agenda, or will appear in the minutes and thanking people for their work are very appropriate things to communicate, he said.

"I personally believe this board should follow the practices and principles of effective boards of education, and other boards, and appoint a board spokesperson," he said. "Detractors from this proposal have said this would keep them from sharing their views. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When the board meets in public at the board table, each and every item that comes before the board requires every board member's comments and discussion on that item. All board members have an equal chance to share their thoughts and opinions in public. Once the board has voted on that particular issue, however, board members should support the decision of the majority and communicate on that issue with one voice."

When the board speaks as individuals after a vote has been taken, the debate happens all over again, either in the print or social media, he said.

"This circumvents the transparency of having those discussions at public board meetings, and it usually leads to confusion as to which direction the board or district is really headed," he said. "I will continue to push for a single board spokesperson so that one consistent message is released to the public. This will still allow each individual board member to speak her or his opinion during discussions at board meetings."

Elizabeth Egan, who posted about a dozen tweets during the April 28 meeting with comments including "this is ugly behavior" and "how many education experts are sitting at this table? I see only one #rodrocks," said the school attorney's opinion should not be interpreted as an individual's right to free speech is forfeited because they sit on a public board.

"Mr. Butler's legal opinion was a response to a false accusation from one community member that the board had violated the Open Meetings Act during a board meeting," Egan said. "He specifically stated that three criteria must be met to violate this statute and none of those three were met. From my perspective, the tweets were intended to provide public transparency from a non-broadcasted five hour board meeting that ended with a few board members behaving in an overtly hostile manner towards our superintendent."

Last year, the board reached an agreement with the Independence Township Board to share PEG resources and cable television equipment, she said.

"I expected all school board meetings would be taped with an improved quality of viewing for our community," she said. "In February 2014, I made several requests to the board president to tape all board meetings and my requests were ignored. Video taping supports transparency to the public since many interested citizens cannot attend our School Board meetings."

Board members must communicate with the public, she said.

"Some walk the streets or give statements to the press, but our multi-generational society taps into LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram to name a few social applications," she said. "A printed newspaper or cable broadcast may not connect with busy working parents and younger voters."

The issue of board members using social media is the same as meeting face to face in public, she said.

"The content of a conversation or information shared in a public forum must not violate the Open Meetings Act," she siad. "Specifically this means, three criteria must not happen at once: we cannot create a quorum for discussion, four or more trustees; we cannot deliberate future decisions of the board, content of discussions should be social or information gathering in nature; and if a board member expresses an opinion in a public forum, whether it is a main street or social media location, we must disclaim the board, and declare ourselves as a free speaking person with an opinion. As expressed in our Operating Procedures, the board should have one spokesperson to speak on behalf of the board."

For Rosalie Lieblang, Twitter can be a good information source, but it is not appropriate to use Twitter during a board meeting.

"As Mr. Butler mentioned, tweeting during a meeting gets dangerously close to violating the Open Meetings Act," Lieblang siad. "The School Board is a public body, and as directed by the Open Meetings Act, all deliberations must take place in a public meeting. Having a discussion of board business over Twitter or through other social media avenues conflicts with the direction provided by the Open Meetings Act. The district's attorney is paid to advise the board on legal issues and it is in our best interest to heed his advice."

Many community members told her they were disturbed to hear/read about certain board members tweeting disparaging comments toward other board members during board meetings, Lieblang said.

"It is unprofessional and disrespectful behavior. We are teaching students through Cultures of Thinking to participate in discussion and be respectful and open to the views and opinion of others," she said. "This behavior of tweeting disparaging comments is contrary to what we teach our students. It sets a poor example and is sending the wrong message to students that this type of behavior is okay. I expect board members to be a role model for our students and making disparaging and disrespectful remarks on social media is not the type of behavior I want my children or the other 8,000+ children in our district to model."

Challenger Kelli Horst said it is her responsibility as a board member to be available and responsive to community members who want to discuss her position on any vote or issue discussed at the board table.

"Members of the board should refrain from actively opposing a majority decision once the vote is taken, no matter the communication channel," Horst said.

The board's credibility has been hurt by their own missteps and lack of leadership, including failing to act in a timely manner on the superintendent's and teachers' contracts; delaying their own evaluation; selectively taping meetings for broadcast; undermining the superintendent in public; and failing to heed the counsel of expert advisors, she said.

Challenger Donald E. Deering said he cannot speak to attorney Butler's comments or intentions behind the recommendation to "refrain from communicating about board business and websites at all times."

"However, I'm confident in saying that communication is the foundation for all collaborative efforts that have led to our country's greatest accomplishments," Deering said.

If the context of Twitter/social media was used negatively during a board meeting, there would be few, if any, exceptions to the rule for this being constructive, he said.

"However, if the context was somehow meant to be positive and/or constructive, perhaps there is a place for this mode of communication," he said."

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