As the final debate over a new nepotism policy wound down Feb. 2, one Beaufort County school board member threw his hand up and then rested it on his head in consternation.
“Are we voting on the same thing twice?” Paul Roth asked.
Roth was half-right.
The board had already approved language defining the superintendent’s executive leadership. But it needed to vote on it a second time after, perhaps needlessly, tying that definition to the success of another motion, which failed.
Roth, and some audience members, were not alone in their confusion.
After various lapses and delays due to members’ lack of familiarity with procedure, the board decided Feb. 6 to create an ad-hoc committee to update its current guidelines and fill in the blanks.
The committee’s work will address some of what members of the public call a pattern of dysfunction on the board.
“Bizarre,” Richard Bisi, co-founder of Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, said of the board’s discussion after it passed a nepotism policy that allows the hiring of superintendents’ family members. “They don’t have the vaguest idea of parliamentary procedure.”
The ad-hoc committee is chaired by the newest school board member, David Streibinger, who was elected in a special election Feb. 2 to fill the seat vacated in October by chairman Bill Evans.
On Wednesday, Striebinger agreed that the school district’s governing body is marked by dysfunction, and said he was hopeful the ad-hoc committee can “clean up” the board’s interactions in the coming months.
The alternative, he said, is continued public outrage at whatever the board is discussing, whether nepotism, a penny sales tax or its $200-million budget.
“The public can certainly disagree with the board, but at least if you look like you’re organized and you’re handling it in a professional fashion, they recognize it’s just a disagreement and not that the whole thing is a disaster,” Striebinger said.
“That’s the first step to restoring confidence,” he added. “We have to look like we know what we’re doing.”
The ad-hoc committee met for the first time Monday to talk structure, policy titles and other procedural issues. In addition, Striebinger said, the board is eliminating committee co-chairs to improve efficiency.
Striebinger said his group’s main task is to align its Board Commitments and Responsibilities with the National School Board Association. That entails grouping its existing guidelines into five categories — vision, accountability, policy, community leadership and relationships.
When necessary, the committee will also update or create new policies, such as outlining what kind of items go on the board’s consent agenda — items packaged together for one vote because they are non-controversial and don’t require discussion.
Striebinger said the committee must finish its work by the board’s April 1 and 2 work sessions.
Board chair Mary Cordray said she does not agree that the board is dysfunctional or chaotic, as several members of the public said Feb. 2.
However, she acknowledged board members struggle to stay on topic of the motions they are meant to be voting on, and said some are ill-prepared for meetings.
“There’s been several instances where board members say they don’t like things but don’t make a motion,” Cordray said. “... No action is going to come if nobody makes a motion.”
In response to Roth’s question at the Feb. 2 meeting, Cordray said, “I can’t control what comes out of an individual board member’s mouth.”
Still, some audience members said their issues with the board go beyond procedure.
In another instance of double-voting Feb. 2, members twice shot down requests by JoAnn Orischak and Joseph Dunkle to postpone its nepotism vote until after the special election being held that same day.
The theory of moving a critical issue for the sake of expediency, for me, is the first step in the erosion of doing what’s right.”
Anthony Cambria, Hilton Head
Both votes failed, frustrating audience members like Anthony Cambria, who said he objected to repeated references by board members to wrapping up the nepotism issue without further delay.
“The theory of moving a critical issue for the sake of expediency, for me, is the first step in the erosion of doing what’s right and I hope we never fall into that trap,” Cambria said at the end of the meeting.
Streibinger said he would have preferred the board wait, but noted his opposition to the nepotism policy would not have swayed the 6-4 vote, which passed a policy no stricter than the one in place at the start of the school year, when superintendent Jeff Moss recommended the hiring of his wife as director of innovation.
Still, he said, postponing the vote “would have been a nice chance to show the public they were turning the ship so to speak. But that’s gone. That opportunity’s gone, so we have to move on.”
The next meeting of the ad-hoc committee is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Feb. 29, at the district office, 2900 Mink Point Blvd., Beaufort.
Ad-Hoc Committee for Beaufort County Board of Education
- Members: David Streibinger (chair), Evva Anderson, Bill Payne, Paul Roth, Geri Kinton
- First meeting: Jan. 15
- Next meeting: 4:30 p.m. Feb. 29, district office at 2900 Mink Point Blvd., Beaufort
- Deadline: April 1