No bygones: School board members tangle again over by-laws
Published 11:18 am, Thursday, March 12, 2015
Changing rules that govern the Board of Education can no longer be accomplished by a simple majority vote.
After a months-long debate over by-laws, the school board on Tuesday voted 5-4 to require that any future change to the by-laws require a two-thirds majority, or six of the panel's nine members.
The controversial vote followed testy exchanges between members of the five-person majority and four-person minority on the board. Those in the minority indicated the majority was attempting to impose its will on the nine-member board, as well as future boards, without respect for views held by members of the minority. In January, they noted, five members approved changes to the by-laws, on 5-4 votes, to limit public comment and restrict the ability of board members to request information from the school district's central office.
However, members of the majority said Tuesday that the by-laws were in conflict since one section said the board followed "Robert's Rules of Order," which requires a two-thirds vote to change such rules, while another section of the by-laws said the rules could be changed by a simple majority vote. They added that other proposed changes to the by-laws, requested about a year ago at the request of minority members and acted upon last winter, also were subject only to a simply majority vote.
The five board members who often vote together are board Chairman Philip Dwyer, Vice Chairman John Convertito, Secretary Jessica Gerber and members Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly and Marc Patten. All are Democrats except for Convertito, a Republican. The four board members who often vote together are Paul Fattibene, Eileen-Liu McCormack, John Llewellyn and Donna Karnal. All are Republicans, except for Karnal, a Democrat.
"I would prefer a new sitting board, if they so choose, to make this amendment," Fattibene said. "I don't think it's an appropriate or fair thing for this board to do."
Liu-McCormack and Karnal said changing the number of votes needed to change by-laws from a simple majority to two-thirds should itself require a two-thirds majority.
"Why aren't we asking for a two-thirds vote to pass this?" Karnal said.
Patten replied, "We already have a by-law that states how to amend by-laws." He said that by-law required only a simple majority vote and was the by-law in effect as the vote was cast.
Patten said the original intent of the amendment to require a two-thirds majority was to bring the board's by-laws into conformity with Robert's Rules of Order. He said the board's by-laws weren't in compliance with Robert's Rules of Order, even though they claimed to follow that governing document because by-laws could be changed by a simple majority. "We have a conflict within our own by-laws," he said.
However, the by-law on the school board's website that pertains to Robert's Rules of Order is qualified. It states: "Unless otherwise provided in the By-Laws, the Board shall conduct all of its business in accordance with the current edition of Robert's Rules of Order (Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)"
Patten said if it was unfair to change the by-laws with only a majority vote then it also was unfair to change the rules with a majority vote when the minority members made proposed changes about a year ago.
Llewellyn, Liu-McCormack and Karnal also questioned why the requirement for a two-thirds majority was taken up last, after by-law changes that passed on 5-4 votes in January.
Dwyer said he had assigned the proposed two-thirds requirement to be considered after the other proposed changes about a year ago, and he added that if it hadn't been last when the minority had proposed by-law changes, they would have claimed he was attempting to hinder their ability to make changes. "It's the same logic used a year ago that worked to [minority members'] benefit," he said.
But Llewellyn and Karnal disputed Dwyer's characterization, saying the two amendments that limited public comment and restricted board members' ability to request information were proposed after the amendment to require a two-thirds majority.
"This was not put in sequence because the other two amendments were pushed in or added," Karnal said.
Liu-McCormack said, "This is orchestrated sequencing."
Dwyer said, "Using words like `orchestrated' are really not appropriate."
Liu-McCormack said, "I apologize."
Earlier, Dwyer admonished Liu-McCormack when she said he should feel "uncomfortable" with allowing the method to change by-laws to be approved without a two-thirds vote.
Karnal then pressed Dwyer on whether he had added those two amendments after the two-thirds amendment already had been proposed. "Did you add two more amendments to the list?" she asked.
Dwyer initially said he had no further explanation, but acknowledged he had after Karnal repeated the question.
After the board voted 5-4 to require any future changes to its by-laws be subject to a two-thirds vote, Llewellyn said he believed that approval should have required a two-thirds majority. "I'll be making a motion to rescind this in the future," he said.