What does the phrase “Speaking with one voice” mean when referring to board action?
“Speaking with one voice” refers to how high functioning boards and the board members on the losing side respond after a divided board vote has been taken on a difficult decision. It does not mean that the board votes unanimously on agenda items and it does not mean that board members in the minority on a divided vote cannot speak at all or state their position after a vote has been taken.
Board members represent all different sectors of the community and hold a variety of opinions and values. Board members can reasonably be expected to take opposing positions on board decisions. The community respects board members who stand up for their positions, argue the pros and cons passionately with the intent of providing the best outcome for students and the community as a whole. We know that better decisions are made when all sides of an argument are heard. Once a decision has been voted by the board, the public expects that the board will work together to implement that decision.
In situations where board members have been on the losing side of a vote, and then continue to actively and publicly work against that decision, even doing their best to make the implementation fail, the public loses respect for the board as a governing body. Our democratic process supports the voice of the minority being heard before the vote is taken, and the will of the majority being implemented once the vote has occurred. When board members actively work against an action approved by the majority of the board it shows a lack of respect for the will of the majority and the public expectation that the majority vote will be implemented fairly.
This does NOT mean that the board member on the losing side must say anything other than the truth if asked after the vote. It is OK to say, “The vote did not go the way I would have liked. I took the opposite position to the majority of the board, and I expressed that opinion and the facts that apply at that meeting. However the board has spoken and I will not work against the decision of the board.”
The line is crossed when a board member actively solicits the press, writes letters to the editor, encourages community members to picket meetings, raises funds and organizes work against the board action and generally continues to actively campaign against a board decision that has been made.