Several people, including some members of the Hamburg Central School Board, showed up at a special school board meeting last Tuesday, July 17, to a meeting that offered little available information on the district’s website.
New board member Sally Stephenson informed the district she wanted to hold the meeting the day before. Other than that, there was no information offered for the public as to why it was called. In essence, it was a meeting without an official agenda.
The purpose of it was to offer a resolution not only seeking to have some current and former board members pay for their own legal fees in regards to a suit brought against Stephenson for allegedly illegally taping an executive session in September of 2010, but Stephenson also announced she had filed misconduct charges against two attorney’s from the law firm of Harris Beach, who represents the district, earlier that day.
For just over an hour, there was plenty of banter back and forth between Stephenson, backed by her daughter Holly Balaya, another member of the Hamburg School Board, against School Board President Joan Calkins, Board Vice-President Tom Flynn and Board member Patricia Brunner-Collins. Board members Diane Reynolds and Matthew Dils were absent.
Coming into the meeting, Stephenson was armed with information and ready to duke it out with a board that levied charges against her.
Those members who were present were not prepared, because a lack of information provided to them by Stephenson, for all intents and purposes, left the battle one-sided.
Stephenson had battled with the board prior to becoming a member in regards to the way the boards handled their executive sessions.
Ultimately, the Hamburg Central School Board changed its policy after being found the way their executive sessions were handled was improper.
The argument among some is that the board has lacked transparency.
Whether or not you support the current board president, the position itself should be respected and Calkins should have been informed as to what the meeting was about. Just as important, the public who was invited to attend this meeting, should also have been updated, via the district’s website, as to why this last minute meeting was called.
If you feel the board is not conducting itself in the right way and you feel there are ways to improve the way information is given to the public, that is anyone’s right.
But not affording information to the public and going on the offensive is no better.
The Hamburg School Board feels it was wronged when an executive session was taped nearly two years ago. They believe they have evidence to support their claims and they would like to preserve the rights that come along with the purpose of holding executive sessions. A court of law will determine guilt or innocence.
Stephenson and Balaya have every right to ask board members to consider paying legal fees out of their own pockets.
But the way by which this meeting was called and held was not in the best interest of the residents of the district. No matter what side your on in this mess, the ones who it is hurting the most are the students.
Stephenson and Balaya are well within their rights, as is any school board member, to call for a special meeting. The other members of the board are within their right to fight for executive session protections if they feel they are wronged.
Should something like this arise in the future, we hope any member of the board of education does the proper thing and informs the entire board, as well as the public, as to why they called for a special meeting in the first place.