The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Can School Board govern its own?
By PAMELA GOULD
The Spotsylvania School Board took a cordial yet tense walk down memory lane on Tuesday as members worked to revise policies and create bylaws to govern their own conduct.
For 2 hours, they referenced issues that have prompted public criticism and internal sparring since December 2010.
Members resurrected Amanda Blalock’s December 2010 censure, the December 2011 meeting at current Chairman Linda Wieland’s home where two members and two members-elect agreed to nominate Wieland to the post, Gil Seaux’s successive years as chairman, and Bill Blaine’s presence on a billboard in support of Mary Washington Healthcare.
The School Board has operated without bylaws since February 2007, when it switched to a policy-manual format crafted by the Virginia School Boards Association.
The lack of bylaws became an issue in December 2010 when four members of the board voted to censure Blalock after meeting behind closed doors to discuss the matter. Blalock refused to be part of the closed-door meeting, saying it was improper.
Experts on the state’s Freedom of Information Act suggested that it was illegal because a board can’t meet behind closed doors to discuss actions it has no authority to take. If a board has no bylaws governing its conduct, it has no authority to discipline a member, according to a FOIA Advisory Council opinion.
The lack of bylaws also became an election issue in the Courtland District, which Jim Meyer now represents.
He and Blalock co-chaired a committee to research and produce bylaws. They presented their proposals on Tuesday, and other members tweaked wording.
The policies are not expected to be finalized until late September.
The key points of the four policies presented are:
The word “bylaws” was added to the policy on rules of order.
The policy outlining the board’s annual organizational meeting was revised to prevent the chairman from serving consecutive terms.
The board created a policy to address members’ violations of policies or its code of ethics. The board can choose a mediator to address the situation and meet in closed session to discuss the issues and possible punishments for serious and repeated violations. Those punishments would be handled in the open and could include admonishment, reprimand, censure or removal from committee assignments.
A phrase was added to the conflict-of-interests policy forbidding members from endorsing or implying endorsement of any product or commercial program.
After the meeting, Blaine said he does not see his appearance on the billboard as a conflict of interests. He said he agreed to be featured prior to being elected and received no money for expressing his support for the care he got for knee-replacement surgery.
The billboard, which went up in March and can be seen from U.S. 1 southbound as people approach the School Board office, does not make reference to his position.
Blaine said the new policy would not preclude him from taking the same action again.
“On School Board issues you’re a School Board member, and on non-School Board issues you have freedom of speech,” he said.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
The four policies and bylaws worked out Tuesday are slated for a preliminary vote at the Spotsylvania School Board’s next meeting on Monday and a final vote
on Sept. 24. The public can comment at both meetings.