Work Samples

U46 remains divided over release of closed-session recording

The U46 Board of Education again has refused to release a recording of a closed session of a January 2014 school board meeting.

In a 3-4 vote, the board earlier this month voted down a measure that would've made a recording available to the public. Board President Donna Smith and board members Traci O'Neal Ellis, Susan Kerr and Veronica Noland voted against the measure.

Board member Jeanette Ward sued the board for the right to hear the recording. The board recently granted Ward the right to review the recording of the meeting, but it has not been released to the public.

"I like to see us have this conversation more regularly about other closed-session recordings that we've had," Ward said. "It's supposed to be a normal course of business where we consider the release of closed-session recordings to the public."

The 2014 recording was created during an eight-hour meeting when board members were evaluating themselves as well as former U46 School Superintendent Jose Torres. Ward was not a board member at that time.

Ward said recordings of this meeting are of particular concern because there are allegations that Open Meetings Act violations occurred.

Board member Cody Holt said he supports the release of the audio. The decision comes down to transparency and an effort to preserve good standing with the community they serve as elected officials, he said.

"I believe it's in an effort to be more transparent and have more good governance," Holt said at the meeting Monday. "I don't believe that there is any privacy that still exists with regards to this recording, so legally I believe that we should be able to release it."

Kerr said releasing this particular recording defeats the purpose. She said if these discussions were to become public, she feels there would be less understanding and deeper divisions.

"For me, this is important because it allows board members to have difficult conversations in order to improve the workings of the board, making it a more effective body to serve the students, the district and the taxpayers," Kerr said.

Kerr emphasized that her impression of the meeting is that all seven board members were working to serve a collective purpose.

One attendee questioned whether the release of the recording would provide a sense of transparency and requested that action be taken to calculate the amount of time and resources devoted to the matter.

O'Neal Ellis said she liked a request made by someone attending the meeting to calculate how much money has been spent on the fight over the release of the recording.

"I'd like to know how much in legal fees that the district has spent and staff time without spending a ridiculous amount of time figuring out how much staff time was spent," she said. "I'm talking 5,000-foot-level round ballpark figures."

O'Neal said the issue is not over and said she would like for the board to consider the request.

"I know all the legal fees are not in and we are likely to continue to incur more legal fees related to these tapes," she said. "Rather than having administration start that, I would like for us to at least agree that it's a worthwhile endeavor but that we park it for right now, until we have a better sense that we've come to some resolution, legal fees related to this issue probably are winding up or have wound down, that we have moved onto more worthwhile topics."

The board came to a consensus that discussions of calculating time and resources spent should be brought up at a later date, to help provide some direction in moving forward.