School board flirting with sunshine violations?

New-Press by Tom Hayden

July 29, 2018

The Lee County School Board may be violating the sunshine law and should stop meeting as a group, in a kitchen, out of view of the public, after its regularly scheduled public meetings twice a month.

Board members call these meetings team-building exercises and a way to review what occurred at the public meeting. But these extra meetings are not advertised to the public, what they are sharing in the meetings is currently not available on any district website and can only be obtained in a public records request. The News-Press did make such a request and it cost us $64.98 for the two hours the district needed to compile the information and $5 for a flash drive. The info was photographs of large pieces of paper with words or small phrases written on them apparently highlighting what was shared during the meetings that started last year. There was no other information indicating if more dialogue occurred. We also received hand-written information, called “Pluses and Deltas,” noting what was shared from other meetings over four years.

Some of the things shared there could cross into sunshine law violations and threaten the legality of future votes.

We don’t believe the board is purposely trying to hide information from the public or make decisions about future votes, but the fact the meetings are happening and have not been transparent or publicly documented creates the perception of attempting to keep information from the public.

At best, it appears the board is not comfortable with sharing constructive criticism or other feedback in public view.

At a public meeting last year, board member Chris Patricca, the board representative from District 3, proposed to board members they start the “pluses and deltas” meeting after the regular meeting. She wanted to review the positives and negatives of the meeting. She wanted to get to know her board members better on a personal level and share stories about family or other personal information. She believed that would help build team chemistry and create a more unified and cooperative board in front of the public. Most on the board agreed and attended the meetings. Member Melisa Giovannelli had been attending but stopped this spring. Patricca’s intentions were well meaning. But it looks bad to the public because we don’t know if they shared everything discussed.

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