Yes, of course there’s suspicion — or the “implication” — “that there is something that is going on in School Board agenda meetings that’s secret or excludes people,” as newly re-elected Duluth School Board member David Kirby said in a Sunday News Tribune report.
That’s because that is exactly what is happening. Meetings are being held, closed to the public and even closed to elected representatives of the people, to determine coming School Board agenda items. Only a small select group, including just two School Board members, is determining what the elected board as a whole is allowed to take up and discuss.
Consequently, just two School Board members are receiving information and insights that the other five aren’t, even though all seven represent every one of us tax-paying district residents.
While Kirby indicated in the story — as well as at a candidate forum in September — that nothing unsavory is going on, the potential for such a process to be abused for the gain of a few is troubling. Without the transparency of open meetings, district residents are unable to fully trust that nothing improper or even illegal is transpiring behind closed doors.
Encouragingly, and finally, the district’s agenda-setting process is coming under scrutiny. It’s to be discussed today at a district business committee meeting, as the News Tribune’s Adelle Whitefoot reported.
In the interest of maintaining open and honest government, changes to the district’s agenda-setting process are appropriately being pursued.
“For an organization that is public (and) manages over $100 million, there should be a lot of accountability and transparency,” Josh Gorham, who announced his resignation as a School Board member in September, said in Sunday’s story. “It’s too easy (right now) to sweep things under the rug and hide them."
In a commentary in the News Tribune days after his announcement, Gorham urged district residents to, “Demand (that) agenda-setting sessions be open to all School Board members. Too often, attempts by board members for courageous, meaningful conversation and action are stifled behind closed doors.”
While the current process is said to be more efficient, opening the agenda meetings to the public and to the rest of the board would “make our meetings go much smoother … (and constituents would better be able to) understand where the subjects we talk about come from and why," newly re-elected At Large School Board member Alanna Oswald said in the story. "I think it's best for our community to see our transparent processes and know that there isn't a lot going on behind closed doors."
District constituents deserve at least that, especially with an elected board that long has battled perceptions of not working well together or in the best interest of the community. Any move to increase public trust can be pursued. And any attempt to justify snubbing transparency and sidestepping open government can be rejected. Let that start today.