Board on the wrong track

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:40

    At the May 13th Sparta BOE meeting the public witnessed Board President Keith Smith and five other members take actions that were certainly disgraceful and probably illegal. At the meeting, what was described in the agenda only as a letter to the Sparta Council was handed to each board member to read. It was not included in the agenda materials given to the public. After very brief discussion on minor verbiage changes, the board voted 6 to 2 to issue the letter. Mr. Smith then collected the copies from the board members. After the vote, a member of the public asked if the board would share the contents. Mr. Smith denied that request. Mere minutes later at a break, the two reporters in attendance asked for a copy of the letter. Smith took a copy and gave it to the reporters. This is the letter that has now become notorious in attacking two newly elected board members and threatening legal action against the town council. 1. By denying the public the opportunity to see and understand something listed on a meeting agenda and voted on in a public meeting the six board members likely violated the Open Public Meetings Act. 2. Providing this letter to the press before the council had received it is an affront to the council. 3. The content of the letter, as we find out in the press, threatens possible legal action if the council members proceed in performing their required duty to review and vote on the school budget. This is inappropriate intrusion into the operations of an elected body. 4. This letter and action which included allegations against 2 board members is an outrageous attack on their First Amendment rights to free speech and association. No board can dictate that a member cannot meet or speak with anyone they choose. While the board may criticize a member who takes action proven to compromise the board, they must have clear evidence that has taken place. Further, there are means to engage the officials who are properly authorized to make those determinations. The board is not so authorized. This action demonstrates that the underhanded actions that came to be commonplace with this board continue. Hiding the content of meeting subject matter and preventing the public from seeing it and understanding their actions is unacceptable. Manipulating the press by selectively giving them information in time to be published before the public is aware is improper. Attempting to sway the actions of the council is offensive. Trampling on the rights of citizens and threatening them with legal action is intolerable. It appears that the practice of intimidating good people and trying them in the press continues with this board. Aren’t we past that sort of disgraceful behavior? Let’s have open, honest dialog on issues. Paul Johnson Sparta