School Board member Michael Geist’s proposed changes to board policy on meeting minutes failed by 4-2, with Geist and Marlow in favor, at the Cherokee Board of Education meeting Thursday. School board member Rob Usher was absent.
The board voted 5-1, with Marlow opposed, to include the official summary of Marlow’s ethics violation hearing and sanction in the meeting’s minutes.
The board heard from speaker John Hiland of Woodstock before voting to include the summary of Marlow’s hearing and sanction in the official minutes.
“I just want to know, at the code of ethics hearing for Kelly Marlow, a court reporter was present to create the record, and since the formal record was created, will copies of this be available to the public?” Hiland asked.
School Board Attorney Tom Roach said a transcript of the hearing was ordered and he expected to receive it on Monday, and then would transmit it to the state Board of Education.
“I think copies would be available for a cost,” Roach said.
Marlow said she wanted to “have it noted for the record” that she and her attorney object to the final order.
“There was not a review of the official record, prior to this order being written, I just want that noted for the record,” Marlow said.
Roach said the summary, or “final order,” of the ethics hearing was “vetted back and forth” between himself and Marlow’s attorney, Thomas Salata, before it was brought to the board for a vote.
Roach said policy requires a written summary of the ethics hearing be filed.
The proposed revisions to the board’s policy on meeting minutes would have made it a requirement that reports and documents relating to a formal motion be included in the minutes if they have not already been published in an agenda or elsewhere for ongoing public review.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said documents are already available to the public on request.
“Those all are kept in a file for that particular meeting, and that has been the case as long as I can remember,” Petruzielo said. “There is a way to get the documents.”
Geist said the intention of his proposed policy changes was to make the information in meetings more available to the public, to put it “at the fingertips of the public.”
“There are occasions, and this is rare I’d say, but there are occasions when administration or school board members hand out documentation related to an agenda item. Examples are scoring on contract bidding, I think we’ve seen, sometimes, letters that we’ve sent out presented that were not included in the original agenda for the meeting, and were not subject to public review,” Geist said.
Marlow said she liked the revision, and suggested board members could decide whether or not documents were added to the minutes.
“I think it speaks to transparency and open government,” Marlow said.
Geist said there are things passed out to board members at meetings, “on the table,” which were not available to the public beforehand.
Petruzielo said letters or documents passed out at a meeting are “routinely kept” in the folder. He said that he doesn’t “believe there is a pattern of providing the board with information that is brand new.”
“The only document I can remember over the last several years that is distributed at the table, rather than in advance, routinely, is the document, which pursuant to law, the staff prepares and evaluates different proposals from contractors who want to build a school for us,” Petruzielo said.
Board Chair Janet Read said “staff has done a really good job” making documents available online, and pointed out that every meeting is on video and usually gets put online the next day, “in the interest of transparency.”
Also at the meeting, the board approved the district’s 2014 Legislative Program after making a couple revisions based on input from School Board members Marlow and Robert Wofford.
The priorities include: making public education a priority in Georgia through restoring Quality Basic Education funding; reinstating and restoring state funding for non-certified employee health insurance; and earmarking state funding for performance incentives in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
One goal noted in the 2014 Legislative Program is gaining assistance from the Cherokee Legislative Delegation to support a technical high school in the district, as another option for students.
The superintendent read a letter from state Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) in support of the legislative priorities program that was unanimously approved at the meeting.
Caldwell wrote in the letter to the superintendent that he had “specific interest in helping with your future goal to implement a technical high school in Cherokee County.”
“Having discussed the matter with Rep. (Scot) Turner, we both wish to express our support and desire to help as the district endeavors to execute this vision,” Caldwell wrote. “We look forward to working together with the district and the Board of Education to maintain and improve a strong educational future for Cherokee County’s students.”
In other news, Geist requested the board adopt a resolution in support of “Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act,” a bill passed with bi-partisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“My hope was to essentially send an ‘atta-boy’ to the House of Representatives,” Geist said.
Geist’s request failed 4-2, with Geist and Marlow in favor.
The bill, HR 2083, passed in the House of Representatives on Oct. 22, and Geist’s proposed resolution asks the U.S. Senate and the president to support the bill and enact it into law.
School Board Attorney Tom Roach warned the board that passing a resolution in support of something that was not yet a law could result in undesired consequences.
Petruzielo recommended that the board not pass the resolution, since the district already has safeguards in place to protect children, including background checks. Petruzielo also warned that since this was a bill and not a law it could still change, and going on record in support of it now could be a bad choice.
“I think the spirit is good,” Petruzielo said. “On the surface, this looks like something that would protect kids and is good, and that may well be true, but frankly, the jury is still out on whether or not that will happen based on what the end-product becomes.”
Roach said the resolution is broad, and could result in the district being obligated to spend money they don’t have in the budget.
“It’s a very broad brush in terms of cost,” Roach said. “It sounds really good, but I don’t know if it’s really calculated to do what it’s intended to do. ... I think you’ve got sufficient safeguards in place to guard against hiring predators.”