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May 15, 2018 - 8:00am

Today's Poll: Should school board members respond to public questions about school district matters of public interest?

posted by Howard B. Owens in polls.
jeff saquella
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How should we vote on this budget proposal?.......opinions welcome

Tim Miller
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I cannot vote for either option, as the wording of the question does not differentiate between "speaking for the district" and "well, in my opinion"...

Candidates who had not answered questions about their candidacy or how they will vote on future Board actions should either 1) learn the law and give their personal opinions so voters can make informed decisions; or 2) quit hiding behind a "technicality" that is in reality a bit of misinformation.

Howard B. Owens
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"'speaking for the district' and 'well, in my opinion'...

Is a difference searching for a distinction.

I ask questions all the time of council members and legislators, none except Eugene Jankowski (and he only started doing this after became council president) ever say, "just my personal opinion, not speaking for the council." And I never quote him saying that, as I mentioned to him last night. No reasonable, rational person thinks an individual elected official is speaking for the school district, the municipality, or the body to which they're elected when they are quoted in a news story sharing their thoughts, opinions, or assertions. The quote is clearly, "Mr. Smith said."

I doubt you will ever see me include in a quote from an elected official, "well, in my personal opinion," and certainly not, "well, I can't speak for the board." It's wasted, meaningless words.

Tim Miller
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Howard - I can appreciate what you wrote, and the position you are in as a journalist.

My comment was more directed towards the distinctions referenced in the thread from yesterday, where the constitutional lawyers broke down the 1st Amendment difference between a candidate/Board member speaking for themselves vs. the official spokesperson for a Board.

As a Board member of my homeowners association (I know - not quite the same thing, but pretty much under the same guidelines), I had no issues telling people whether I agreed with or disagreed with actions taken by the Board. However, anybody who declared "the Board feels X" had darn well better get that cleared by the Board. Even as secretary I never spoke for the Board unless instructed by a majority of the Board to do so.

I guess it boils down to whether the Board member makes it clear they are speaking for themselves, or speaking for the Board.

Howard B. Owens
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A board member might say, "the board feels," and might get quoted as such, and then get in trouble with fellow board members. Rightly so, I would suggest.

A school district that offers guidance that says, "don't speak for the board" would have a right to sanction a member who claimed to speak for the board. Potentially even petitioning the education commissioner for removal of that board member (there is a case I came across where a board member in New York had a blog where he wrote regularly about school district members. He frequently, according to the decision, disclosed confidential student information (against the law) and confidential information from executive sessions (unethical and also broke school board policy). The board sought to have him removed from office and won (and I think rightly so).

But a school superintendent nor a board has any real authority under the law to sanction a board member who says, "I disagree with the board's decision on ... " They can try but the board member would have the ability to appeal to the education commissioner and would probably win. The school districts that have these rules established that prohibit board member speech have no legal authority to enforce them, even where written into superintendent contracts. The First Amendment trumps both the board policy and the contract.

The board member is under no obligation to "make clear" that he or she speaks only for him or herself and not the board. The fact the board member is speaking individually (not in a chorus) is prima facia evidence that the board member is speaking for him or herself.

C. M. Barons
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Any public officeholder or candidate who defers to language identifying a media spokesperson and refuses comment as if bound to confidentiality is a) looking for an excuse not to comment or b) hobbled. I could understand a board member being asked to comment on a breaking, controversial issue backing out of a public statement due to insufficient preparation. A candidate for school board opting not to comment on his/her candidacy and suggesting to do otherwise runs in conflict with the designated spokesperson is absurd. I guess that's how things will be in the post-Trump world. Vote for me, if I win you'll find out what my policies are.

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