Our board will be interviewing three candidates to fill one vacant position on our board due to a resignation. While all interviews/conversations must be completed in public, it is difficult to talk about the applicants in public. Do you have any advice for a school board as it launches into this very public process?
September 20, 2013
Yes, filling a vacant board position requires a public discussion as directed by ORS 192.660 (7)(a). And yes, this can be a difficult discussion. While not required, we recommend that the board adopt a “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything” agreement in order to avoid public embarrassment. With this practice, each current board member speaks in favor of their preferred candidate(s). By their silence, they indicate who they do not support. As each board member takes a turn to comment, you are able to tell where things are headed. Additional comment rounds are made if necessary to narrow the field. In every case, the focus is on the positive points about the candidates.
So let’s say the first round goes like this:
• Board member 1: Says positive things about Candidate 1 and Candidate 3
• Board member 2: Says positive things about Candidate 2 and Candidate 3
• Board member 3: Says positive things about Candidate 4
• Board member 4 Says positive things about Candidate 2 and Candidate 3
• Board member 5: Says positive things about Candidate 3
In the next round, we hope they all say positive things about candidate 3, or at least four out of five do, because it is clear that is where the consensus is going. In some cases it takes more rounds. In most cases you would be amazed how quickly it goes.
Once in a while a majority will say they like all the candidates, in which case they have to do a round where they must clearly support their top choice. Then, they have to do another round (or two) to narrow down the field. Then the chair calls for a vote.
It can still be awkward, but it works better than saying negative things in public.
Another approach that boards use is to use a sub-committee of the board to bring a single recommendation to the board. The subcommittee still has to meet in public and discuss in public but there is less likelihood of an audience.
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