The Jefferson Elementary School District is seeking outside help to bring order and efficiency to their often fractious board, but the move is generating controversy of its own, with some critics arguing it is an attempt to stifle the minority.
The board authorized District Superintendent Barbara Wilson to hire a consultant to work with the board on meeting protocols and efficiency last Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns about the district’s tense politics.
A June San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury found “serious problems” with the governing of the district, stating that some board members “do not conduct themselves within the scope and limitations of their legitimate roles as board members.”
The board has seen its fair share of controversy, including a restraining order between two members, and their meetings often run on as members interrupt and talk over each other during discussions.
The board approved changes to its bylaws in January of this year, which the grand jury recommended they enforce. One of the changes read, “The Board will govern itself with dignity and respect for each, staff members and the public,” according to the report. The new rules also said that a majority could file formal complaints with external agencies such as the grand jury or district attorney.
Board Member Marie Brizuela, who missed the vote Wednesday, said she was “shocked” that the board went ahead with hiring a consultant because she and fellow member Hans Hansen are already working in a subcommittee to develop some rules of order in response to the grand jury.
“We had the subcommittee in place to do the job and it was costing nothing,” said Brizuela, who is often a dissenting vote to the board’s majority.
“They want to have some sort of rules in place that will not allow the minority members of the board to speak,” she added.
Hansen said it was in an effort to do just the opposite that the board made the decision. He said they were trying to bring speed and order to the slow and disjointed meetings they’ve had for the past six years.
“If there’s a contentious issue it’s pretty easy for a member to filibuster all night and all morning,” Hansen said.
Establishing rules for the meeting will allow dissent to be better heard because there will be less confusion in the room, Hansen said. More information — if the dissenting opinion is passionate enough — could be brought in at later meetings, he added.
“You establish protocols so you just don’t steamroll people,” he said. “We want to be better than Congress.”