Dear Leader Re-elected as Region 1 Board Chair
By Gale Courey Toensing
December 4, 2012
Oh, how I longed for regime change, but no such luck. Once again the Region 1 Board of Education representatives from Kent and North Canaan voted unhesitatingly to re-elect Cornwall representative Phil Hart as board chair at the monthly meeting on December 3. The Salisbury representative joined them, but I’m not sure why. The Sharon representative and I voted no to the status quo.
So, can we expect another year of the same old, same old? It looks like it from the way the meeting was run. Almost immediately Phil Hart again abused his power by telling people to vote against adding an item to the agenda. Let me say that again: Phil Hart, for the umpteenth time in the past year, advised board members to vote against adding an item to the agenda. That means Phil Hart has gone a step beyond trying to control a discussion (which he often does by interrupting or asking questions that have already been answered or appearing not to understanding something or talking over the person who has the floor) to actually preventing a discussion from taking place. Let me clarify that even further: Phil Hart didn’t advise board members to vote against a motion that had been made, seconded and discussed; he advised members to vote against putting an item on the agenda for discussion. Usually I’m the victim of his outsized control-freak ego, but last night it was Marilyn Yerks, the Sharon rep. Because Phil has become so l’etat c’est moi in his “leadership” style, henceforth I will always think of him as “Dear Leader.”
So this is what happened. Last month, during Dear Leader’s Comments to the Board – oh, wait, I have to back up a moment to explain that! Beginning last January after Dear Leader was elected chair when former long time chair Judge Manning was trounced by Marilyn in Sharon’s first election for its Region 1 representative, he began addressing the board with mostly pre-written comments that were sometimes laced with cute metaphors to help his audience understand the profundity of his thoughts. For example, one of the most memorable metaphors Dear Leader used last year was: “Yesterday’s river does not turn today’s mill.” Interestingly, he used this quaint 19th century image to describe his “vision” for the 21st century.
But I digress. In the past few months Dear Leader has institutionalized his comments by making them an agenda item – the first agenda item each month, in fact. So last month he mentions that he had read an article in the Republican American newspaper that a board member – that would be me — had filed a grievance against the board attorney. Dear Leader says he has no information about the grievance, but felt he had “an obligation” to tell board members about it. So, thinking that Dear Leader wanted to learn more about the grievance, I ask him to add “Board Attorney” to the agenda so I could tell him and the other board members about it. Silly me! Can you imagine my surprise when I found out that Dear Leader wanted to learn nothing about the board attorney grievance? (I thought at the time, what an odd model for an education board chair to present to our students! It could be a new slogan: Learn less, not more!) So, Dear Leader tells board members to vote against my motion to add “board attorney” to the agenda and of course Kent and North Canaan vote against it. The Salisbury rep and I vote for it, but we lost on the weighted vote. The Sharon rep arrived a bit late and missed the vote.
But inquiring minds want to know, and last night Marilyn asked Dear Leader to add “an update on how the board is dealing with the conflict of interest with our board attorney” to the agenda.
“I’m not sure what you want, really,” Dear Leader says. “What is an update? Are you asking to put this on the agenda?”
“Yes, I am,” Marilyn says.
“Okay,” Dear Leader says.
Silly me again! I thought “Okay” meant that he agreed to put the item on the agenda. So, thinking that business was finished, I also ask to add an item – a discussion about holding our meetings in Room 133 – and Dear Leader says he has no problem with that.
Then everything descends into chaos and confusion because there was already a motion on the floor to approve the agenda – a motion that Dear Leader had asked for – but he suddenly realizes there were additions to the agenda, which he rightly should have asked for before asking for the motion to approve the agenda (you see how confusing it gets when a meeting isn’t run properly?). “We can’t have a vote on putting her (meaning Marilyn’s) motion on the agenda because we already have a motion on the floor,” he says, but interestingly, he doesn’t object to putting my item on the agenda. So, Dear Leader asks Kent, “Did you make a motion to approve the agenda?” “Yes,” Kent says. Dear Leader then asks Kent to withdraw his motion, which he does. “Thank you. I don’t think we need the. . . The second does not ahh, . . , ” Dear Leader says.
Then it gets really interesting. “Now, Marilyn,” Dear Leader says, ‘would you state again what you would like on the agenda?” Apparently her request for “an update on how the board Is dealing with the conflict of interest with our board attorney” wasn’t clear enough. Or maybe he couldn’t remember the three-minute old request.
‘I’m concerned about a conflict of interest with our board attorney,” Marilyn says.
“What’s the topic?” Dear Leader asks for the third time.
“A conflict of interest – that would be the topic for the agenda,” Marilyn says.
“Okay,” Dear Leader says again.
“Whose conflict of interest?” Kent asks.
“The attorney versus a board member,” Marilyn says.
“The attorney versus a board member — or an individual?” Kent says as if he’s just caught Marilyn in a gotcha question.
“A board member,” Marilyn says. “We can discuss it now.”
“Are you making that as a motion?” Dear Leader says.
“I am,” Marilyn says.
“Ok!” Dear Leader says decisively. “A motion’s been made that we include on the agenda the topic of the board attorney . . . .”
“. . . having a conflict of interest,” Marilyn says.
“I’m still not exactly sure what the subject is. I know what the subject is,” Dear Leader says. (I realize how odd this sounds, but I assure you, dear readers, that I’m not making it up.) “She has made this motion and is there anyone willing to put that on the agenda?”
“I am,” I peep up. “I second it.”
Dear Leader says he believes “we voted this down at the last meeting?”
“Yes,” I say. “After you advised people to vote against it.” That comment provoked a little rant.
“I will advise people to vote against this and I’ll tell you why,” Dear Leader says. “This item is not something that this board wants to get involved in. We do not want to be a party to a private matter between the board attorney and a board member. And I would recommend that this board not put this on the agenda. My feelings are very clear on this. I make no apology for recommending how you should vote on it. I don’t control anyone’s vote. You can vote any way you wish on it.” I had to suppress a laugh because what flashed through my mind was Henry Ford saying, “You can have it in any color you want, as long as it’s black.”
“But you’re acting beyond your authority,” I say. “If you look at our bylaws your role is to set the agenda and facilitate the meeting.”
“It’s up to this board if they wish to put this on the agenda,” Dear Leader says.
“But you shouldn’t be advising people how to vote,” I say.
“I, I, they, I control no one’s vote,” he insists.
“But you shouldn’t be advising. . .,” I say.
“You know exactly how I feel about this,” he interrupts. “It is an inappropriate item. . .”
“But that’s your opinion,” I say, trying to interrupt him, but he rolls right over me.
“It’s an attorney who happens to be our board attorney and a private individual,” Dear Leader says, then he calls the vote and a weird thing happens. Kent and North Canaan unsurprisingly vote against adding the item to the agenda. Marilyn and I vote for it. The Salisbury representative who voted for adding the item to the agenda last month now tries to abstain from voting then changes his mind and votes against the motion. So the motion fails and there’s no discussion about the grievance against the board attorney.
If all of this seems unlikely or surreal, dear readers, you have only to watch the video of the meeting on www.youtube.com when it’s posted.
To be continued.