Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Abusing the Consent Agenda: when a Tool becomes a Weapon

When Director Jessica Olson joined the Everett School Board in 2009, the rest of the school board quickly determined that the public had not elected just another “Rubber Stamp”.  She asked questions and demanded transparency - qualities the public elected her for because the current Board had just suffered through one of the most humiliating episodes ever seen when they approved the secret recording of a teacher in her classroom.  It was so bad that the Superintendent ended up resigning over it.  The public was ready for someone who intended to represent their interests.  

The rest of the board didn't like Jessica’s constant demands that they be as transparent as possible.  She asked a lot of questions - too many for their liking and demanded video recordings of meetings.  

For example, the “Consent Agenda” is the part of the meeting where everything that the majority of the board doesn’t feel needs to be discussed is put and it’s all approved with one single vote - it's generally for recurring and routine items.  It can become a vehicle for abuse and, as one School Board community activist in Florida says, "It's a way to hide sins". 

Traditionally in this district, a Director may submit a request to the board president to pull an item from the Consent Agenda with 3 days notice, but the board president can deny the request - which he seems to do almost all the time when Director Olson makes one.

A second chance to pull an item for discussion was to request it be pulled just before voting.  That had been the policy for many years - until Director Olson started using it.  The reaction of the board was to use their majority to silence her by changing two policies (SEE ABOVE PHOTOS) that had not been changed since 2001. Now, every request to pull an item from the consent agenda for DISCUSSION must have the “second” of another Director.  Guess what happens when she makes a request?  You can hear crickets....  It seems that more and more items are now finding their way onto the Consent Agenda. Not every expenditure or policy change needs lengthy discussion, but when I see something that needs to be questioned, it should be easy to question it. These people are supposed to represent the public and the public wants to be sure it's money is being spent appropriately and in a manner that helps students do their best.  Yet, they consider the Consent Agenda an easy way to shove anything through.  They also consider it their legally required "Audit". So, their strategy is to just say, "Yes".  That sets up a nice little situation for some pretty serious abuse.  (Remember what happened in Seattle?) 

This is an opportunity to turn the tide of pettiness and lack of accountability. I would work to change these policies back.  And, should Rod Reynolds and myself get elected to create a NEW MAJORITY, we would not use policy changes to silence those we disagree with.  We’re more mature than that. Nor would we use the Consent Agenda to approve items that really don't belong on it. But, this board has perfected the art of hiding anything they don't want to discuss on it.  Then, they allow the public to make comments only AFTER they have put their rubber stamp on it rendering any plea for discussion completely useless.  

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” - Patrick Henry, “Virginia Convention Speech,” 1788