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What should the board chair do about audience complaints of personnel that should be handled during executive session?

The chair should make every effort to end the public complaint against an individual immediately. This means using the gavel to demand the outburst end or recessing the meeting. It can be awkward to shut down a speaker, but it is important to do so in order to protect the rights of the staff member and limit the district's liability in the situation.

If using the gavel gains control of the situation, the chair can then explain WHY the board won't hear the complaint in public and instruct the individual in the proper steps, as outlined in policy KL. Some chairs keep copies of policy KL on hand to give to individuals who want to bring complaints.

It is possible (at least theoretically) to move immediately into executive session to hear the complaint, but that is dangerous, and I recommend you don't do it. The staff member being complained against may have the right to be notified about the hearing of the complaint, be present and have representation present. Going directly to executive session and hearing the issue would not allow those steps to be taken nor does it allow the administration to research the situation and present all the facts to the board. In addition, it sets a precedent that anyone who wants to make a complaint can get an immediate "audience" with the board.

A good practice is to have written on the agenda the board's policy language (usually in BDDH or BDDH-AR) expressing that the board does not allow public complaints to be made against individuals. Read that statement out loud before the start of the public comment portion of the meeting.

"Speakers may offer objective criticism of district operations and programs but the board will not hear complaints concerning specific district personnel. The chair will direct the visitor to the appropriate means for board consideration and disposition of legitimate complaints involving individuals."

For more information on this question, Ask Betsy's Team.