BRATTLEBORO – Approving or changing meeting minutes is usually quite straightforward for the Windham Southeast School District Board.
However, the August 9 meeting minutes proved somewhat controversial, as they were mentioned several times in other meetings; minutes are the approved notes taken at meetings. Last week, the board voted 5-4 to approve board member Michelle Luetjen Green’s proposed change to the minutes to include a contentious exchange.
“The amendment should reflect the last 4 minutes that were on video of our meeting before we went into executive session,” she said. “I ran this by our recorder Wendy [Levy] for support.
On Aug. 9, Green questioned the reason for going into executive session, which is governed by state law. Board chairwoman Kelly Young asked if Green was challenging her, and board member Liz Adams yelled at Green. This led to Young asking for more training at the next meeting, where the board approved the purchase of Robert’s rules of procedure books for board members.
President seeks redress after dispute over executive session
Last week, board member Deborah Stanford raised concerns about setting a precedent. She said meeting minutes should contain actions, not necessarily what was said by individual members, per Robert’s rules.
Board member Lana Dever said she wanted to know if the board had indeed met in executive session. It is not known if a vote was taken to do so, but it is known that no action was taken after the executive session except adjournment.
If the council did not properly enter executive session, Dever said a document would no longer be private. It’s unclear what it is, except that it has to do with the formation of the council.
“I thought we were in executive session,” Green said.
Board member Tim Maciel asks why it is so important to add the details requested by Green to the minutes. Green said any action must be documented and she feels “a lot” of information was missing.
“We are 25 minutes away from this meeting, which is supposed to be about education, schools and improving student learning on my mind, and I don’t see it as doing that, and I have l ‘feels like it’s taking up a lot of time where we could focus on something that I find much more productive,’ said board member Emily Murphy Kaur, who popped the question and triggered an immediate vote on the proposed amendment.
Jaci Reynolds of Brattleboro, a former council member who has been seeking appointment to the council since council member David Schoales resigned, told the reformer she fears bullying has taken place.
She shared notes she took on the matter: Green was not acknowledged and then ignored when she went to propose an amendment to the minutes on Aug. 23; Young told her to email the amendment, and Green said she had already emailed it to Young and Maciel before the meeting; an agenda item to amend the minutes was deferred to the September 13 meeting chaired by Schoales, who has now resigned, so that the board can research further what needs to be published in the minutes of the meeting under Robert’s rules; when Maciel chaired the September 27 meeting, there was no mention of the August 9 minutes, and Reynolds received no response when she inquired about it; on October 11, when the subject was still not on the agenda, Reynolds asked again, and Young asked for an email, so Reynolds sent the referenced notes; and Stanford noted that the situation was confused.
When the matter was finally put on the Oct. 25 agenda, according to Reynolds’ notes, Young asked for a motion to change the Aug. 9 minutes, then council member Shaun Murphy moved, but no one did not press. Green told the reformer she missed about 10 minutes of the meeting, including the vote to change the minutes, due to poor internet reception since joining via Zoom.
“Clarification is needed and deserved for Wendy [Levy] and the public good,” Reynolds said in an Oct. 26 interview.
In an interview hours before last week’s meeting, Levy described how she felt responsible for writing meeting minutes, similar to her obligation when she was a reporter for the Commons weekly.
“We’re here to let the public know what elected officials are doing, maybe in different ways,” she told the reformer. “But the objective is the same: to ensure transparency.”
Levy said his job is to give an official record of the meeting guided by the Opening Meetings Act and Robert’s Rules of Court.
“No one asked me in a public meeting what my experience was in writing these minutes and all the requests that came to modify them, the questions I had, the whole process”, he said. she declared. “But this meeting was not a typical meeting for me…there was a lot of confusion, and from what I heard from other board members…it was a really puzzling.”
On Aug. 9, Levy left before the contentious trade, as she does when executive sessions are scheduled later that night, and no action is expected. She watched the Brattleboro Community Television video, as the reformer did for his reporting on the exchange, to complete the record.
Levy said it appears the council went into executive session, came back and had an argument.
“It was really unclear what was happening, but what I heard was that someone made a motion,” she said. “It didn’t fail, but it kind of wasn’t over.”
Levy doesn’t know if the motion was seconded, but said it was definitely not voted on. Having taken minutes for other councils, she says, she knows the importance of recording dissent from the governing body.
“It should be noted,” she said.
If the board violated the open meeting law, which Levy said could have happened through oversight if the board went into executive session without a proper vote, she feared getting implicated. She said the minutes she submitted, without Green’s amendment, were the result of a conversation with Maciel, and she asked never to put herself in a position to omit information again.
After submitting the draft minutes without information about the executive session, Levy no longer had the authority to edit them. She expressed concern that no one had faced Green’s attempts to do so.
“It’s OK to make a mistake; it’s OK to be human,” Levy said. “I feel a little embarrassed.”
Levy said she felt like she was letting people down when she didn’t speak up, and that the public has a right to know and to hold her officials accountable. She sees the issue as a learning opportunity for the board.