The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will wait for vice chair Gabe Gilman to be present at a meeting before discussing a letter that he sent to his fellow board members charging the board with holding an illegal executive session.
Gilman’s letter spelled out why he believed the board’s executive session on May 24 was illegal. Gilman also suggested two motions to admit fault and to ensure that the same mistake does not happen again. The board discussed it at a September 27 meeting.
Gilman is not the first board member to question the executive session. Fayston representatives Heidi Spear and Jill Ellis sent a memorandum to the rest of the board members on June 14 challenging the closed-door meeting. They sent a second letter to the board regarding the same issue in late August.
Their memorandum also made three demands for a meeting without Superintendent Brigid Nease, an executive session with a facilitator present and a 360-degree review of Nease.
In response to Spear and Ellis’ memorandum the board took a unanimous vote of confidence in the board chair, Christine Sullivan, Superintendent Nease and her administrative team.
Then on August 30, after another letter from Spear and Ellis, board members passed a resolution denying their three demands.
Spear has since resigned.
NEEDS TO BE IN THE ROOM
At the board meeting following each letter, the sending board member has not been present. The rest of the HUUSD Board wants that to change.
Peter Langella from Moretown explained that he would rather have board members come to the meeting and talk about any issues they may have rather than send a letter to the full board.
“I think we need people who are writing letters to come to the meeting and formally make a complaint or formally motion for us to do something. I don’t think we can just receive letters and then read minds,” Langella said.
Langella motioned to put the letter on the HUUSD Board’s October 11 agenda. That motion eventually carried.
Before board members voted on it, however, Sullivan said that she needed to clarify whether Gilman’s letter was a complaint or simply a letter to the full board. If it were an official complaint, then the board would need to address it in some way.
“Failure of a public body to respond to a written notice of alleged violation within 10 calendar days shall be treated as a denial of the violations for the purposes of enforcement of the requirement of this subchapter,” Sullivan read from Vermont statute 1 V.S.A. 314.
Board members decided to assume that the letter was not an official complaint.
Jim Casey of Waterbury thought that the letter should have been discussed. He noted that Gilman sent the letter knowing that he would not be at the meeting and he made his position very clear. Gilman also gave the board specific motions to take and Casey noted that the board could at least begin the discussion.
Gilman’s letter will be put on the HUUSD Board’s next agenda, on October 11.
SUPERINTENDENT NEASE’S RESPONSE
“I was very shocked to get the letter. I am not prepared to rebut each part of the letter or share my legal opinions of the letter. I have some. I actually have many,” Superintendent Nease said.
“I am going to write a piece for you because I want it to be on record. I want it to be attached to the meeting minutes on my objection to things that I feel are either untrue, distorted or simply wrong,” she added.
Nease, supported by many board members, believed that she should be able to address the letter in her superintendent’s report. Nease was specifically cited in Gilman’s letter and she wanted the opportunity to “correct the record.”
“There are things that aren’t necessarily indicative of the truth in there about the superintendent, me, this board. So, I think we can have a board discussion about the contents of the letter with Gabe and his proposed motion when he is in the room, but if somebody wants to address something that’s in a report, to say you can’t correct the record the next two weeks, I don’t know that that’s fair,” Sullivan said in support of Nease.
“I don’t know that I would want lies out there about me that I can’t speak to for the next two weeks,” Sullivan added.
In her verbal report to the board on September 27, Nease clarified that she discussed the letter that Spear and Ellis sent to the board on June 14 with the supervisory union’s legal counsel, Pietro Lynn. Nease said she was informed that there was no way in which Lynn could weigh in on the topic because he was not at the meeting and there were no meeting minutes from the executive session.
Nease did say that Lynn believed the board had the right to enter into executive session to discuss a matter of personnel.
“At the end of our conversation in June, I left believing that his opinion was that he wasn’t there, he can’t give a firm diagnosis of the executive session, but he did not have concerns. He said the board could handle the letter as they saw fit,” Nease explained.
Nease has not brought up this discussion with the board before because she said she does not have to. Nease explained that the board did not direct her to bring the letter to legal counsel. She also said that she is allowed to consult legal counsel without the direction of the board in order to do her job.
Nease will put together a full written report for the board to be attached to the meeting’s minutes.
Gilman’s letter can be seen at www.valleyreporter.com.