One of our board members speaks to the public and press against the positions taken by the board at our meetings. This board member has also leaked information from executive session meetings. Is there anything the rest of the board can do about this situation?
October 10, 2014
The board should regard this as a sequential process of communication with the offending member. Begin by assuming that the board member doesn't realize that the member is harming the district and needs to be informed. The steps outlined below progress through stages to clarify the board's position to the public and protect the district as much as possible from any liability.
Step 1: The board chair, or chair and superintendent meet with the board member who has caused the problem and discuss the issue. Provide the offending board member with copies of the appropriate policies, code of conduct and board operating agreement. Discuss the effect the statements and behavior are having on the district as a whole and the potential for liability to the district. Inform the member that if these actions cause the district to be sued and he/she has acted outside of board authority, errors and omissions insurance will not cover the legal and settlement expenses. He/she will be liable for his/her own costs. At this stage your objective is to fully inform the board member without antagonizing, upsetting or embarrassing the member in any way.
Step 2: The board, or a board member, files a complaint against the offending board member and the board holds an executive session to discuss the issue with the board member. This is like any other complaint against personnel under ORS 192.660(2)(b). The board member has the option of requiring that the complaint be heard in public. At this meeting the board is very clear that the board as a whole is upset with the offending actions. The board member is still able to save face in public since the session was held in executive session.
Step 3: The board publicly votes to "censure" the board member. This step is usually one which publicly embarrasses the board member and the board cannot usually repair the relationship after this action has been taken.
Step 4: The board votes in public to adopt a statement that the board does not support or approve of the specific statements or actions of the board member. Steps 3 and 4 may be done in reverse order; they essentially have the same impact. The board is separating itself from the board member and making it public that the board is in no way connected with the inappropriate actions. This also provides something for the district's attorney to use in defense of the district if there is a lawsuit against the district because of the single board member's behavior or statements.
Step 5: The board publicly votes to request the board member resign and/or encourages and helps citizens begin a recall campaign. The board vote to request resignation has no legal effect but is a political move designed to encourage the rest of the community to put pressure on the board member to resign and take his/her political agenda elsewhere.
If the board member is intentionally behaving badly in order to draw attention to his or her particular cause, then the board should be firm about not allowing the board meetings to become a soap box for the offending board member. All board members are elected officials and have a place at the table for discussions which come before the board, but should not be allowed to grandstand on their own issues if there is not a majority of the board who wishes to discuss it. If one board member is disruptive at board meetings the board chair, with support of the board, can and should limit disruption. Be very careful to be fair and encourage a healthy exchange of viewpoints, but restrict inappropriate and/or disruptive comments.
Use your policies, code of conduct and board operating agreement to back up all actions taken by the board.
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