NAPLES — Lee County School Board members discussed the elephant in the room at a workshop Friday.
Relations between board members — in particular between Board Member Robert Chilmonik and the other four members — have been particularly strained in the past month, starting with a letter sent by Chilmonik to President Barack Obama in September and culminating in a proposal by Board Member Jeanne Dozier to censure Chilmonik at an Oct. 6 meeting.
A board policy regarding board member comments and board relations during meetings was floated by Chairwoman Jane Kuckel, but the board decided to put off any further discussion of the issue until after a workshop to discuss Robert’s Rules of Order, the standing set of rules regarding conduct among legislative boards. At the Friday meeting, called annually to set priorities and discuss policies for the coming year, Dozier suggested another workshop on rules of order, not because of any recent issues, she said, but because of the ability to prevent future issues with a refresher course.
“I initially brought up a policy seven or eight years ago,” said Dozier. “There are ways of doing things and ways of not doing things. Policy — that’s the way you take care of business is through policy.”
Robert’s Rules are followed by most legislative bodies to determine such procedures as how to raise a motion and take a vote.
The original suggestion for censure centered on Chilmonik’s letter to Obama, in which he apologized for the district’s decision not to air Obama’s live address to the nation’s school children. Dozier’s proposal to censure Chilmonik was abandoned in lieu of a few words from Dozier about proper conduct among board members.
On Friday, Dozier floated several additional policies, mostly from other school districts, as suggestions for the board to adopt.
She read off excerpts with rules such as “be respectful to others,” “strive to maintain harmonious relations with board members,” “accept majority decisions graciously,” “stifle personal interest” and “maintain firm convictions.”
“There’s a way to maintain firm convictions without insulting the rest of the board,” said Dozier.
She also suggested a policy that would prevent any board members from speaking against actions of the board if they fell into the minority on a decision. If a majority vote decides an issue, a board member who fell into the minority should not undermine that decision, Dozier said.
Chilmonik, who often lodges the lone voice of dissent on votes, disagreed.
“I think the last few weeks, the public has sounded quite clearly what they expect of their public officials, and that is a robust discussion about how you feel on things,” Chilmonik said. “We’re not always going to agree with each other, but if we’re saying the board members have to go out and couch their words, I simply can’t agree with that. The ultimate boss is the taxpayers and the public.”
Dozier’s suggestions built upon a set of policy recommendations presented by Kuckel, including a policy that would prevent board members from calling for an immediate presentation or discussion of an issue at a board meeting, but instead scheduling it for a future presentation.
Chilmonik and Board Member Steven Teuber both took issue with that recommendation, saying it limits the board, and that procedures are already in place through Robert’s Rules of Order that establish how a board should proceed if one member brings up a topic of discussion or calls for a vote on an issue that was not scheduled.
“We do all agree that Robert’s Rules is appropriate,” said Teuber. “What I propose is let’s do that first and after you’re fully aware of what Robert’s Rules applies, and if it negates any of our policies, then we don’t even have to go there.”
Connect with Leslie Williams at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_williams