Time for some sunshine in DPS meetings

Sunshine law cartoon

Columbia Tribune: Sunshine John Darkow
03/09/2005

Ohio has open meeting laws, commonly called “Sunshine laws”– which are to protect the public from public officials doing things behind closed doors. When you are elected, you are not in charge, you work for all the people who elected you, and as such, except for a few key things like legal disputes, contracts, personnel decisions, you do it where the public can watch.

It’s a weak law, with even weaker consequences. No one gets rich catching politicians acting badly thanks to the low fines, and high court costs. If we really believed in this, instead of electing a coroner or a county engineer, we’d elect a chief ethics officer whom you could turn to and they would take care of things like this.

While the Dayton Public School board only has one new member, John McManus, all the rest of them should have taken the Sunshine law class offered by the secretary of state. I know for a fact that board VP Sheila Taylor has taken it and knows enough to know right from wrong.

Recently, the DPS board has been receiving a lot of flak- mostly from African American activists in our community. First it was the “School to Prison Pipeline” then the “cops at basketball games” and most recently, for the non-renewal of the two top administrators who are black, by a board that is majority white and led by two white people. Dr. Adil Baguirov’s move to limit speakers to 1 minute instead of the normal 3, had security forcibly removing people from the podium over the basketball game issue.

So, this little item, had it been on the agenda, would have had a ton of people wanting to talk about it, protest it, and generally knock some sense into a board that seems pretty insensitive to the community it was elected to serve.

Meeting Mar 01, 2016 – Strategic Planning Meeting
Category: Resolution
Subject: Resolution – Hate Groups
Type: Action, Information

Whereas the Dayton New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam are recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups as hate groups,

The district shall not participate in events that promote or attempt to legitimize nationally recognized hate groups.

Motion by Joseph E. Lacey, second by Adil T. Baguirov, Ph.D.
Final Resolution: Motion Carried
Yes: Adil T. Baguirov Ph.D., Joseph E. Lacey, John S. McManus, Sheila J. Taylor
No: Hazel Rountree, J.D, Ph.D.
Abstain: Ronald C. Lee
Not Present at Vote: Robert C. Walker
For the record, the bottom three members are African American, the first four are white.
The real question is, why wasn’t this on the printed agenda? And when did they actually vote on it?
A friend told me this:
“The resolution was not on the agenda handed out to community observers at the beginning of the meeting, and was not presented until after the executive session, which means all community members were gone.”
Executive session rules have been bent, twisted and misapplied for years in Montgomery County, and don’t even get me started on the gray area of “work sessions.” If we had a real chief ethics officer, with power, the public would see a new level of transparency that would make their heads spin, but that’s wandering off on a tangent.
To go into executive session, you must announce it in a regularly scheduled public meeting. You must, explain before hand the reason it’s called, then go into session, and then only discuss the matter at hand. When returning from executive session, you announce that you stuck to the stated item and close the meeting. You do not come back in and take a vote on something that was not the topic of discussion- as they did on March 1.
The law is pretty specific about resolutions being adopted in an open meeting- one where the public is still there- and are informed about it via the agenda:

8 (H) A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body. A resolution, rule, or formal action adopted in an open meeting that results from deliberations in a meeting not open to the public is invalid unless the deliberations were for a purpose specifically authorized in division (G) or (J) of this section and conducted at an executive session held in compliance with this section. A resolution, rule, or formal action adopted in an open meeting is invalid if the public body that adopted the resolution, rule, or formal action violated division (F) of this section.

Source: Lawriter – ORC – 121.22 Public meetings – exceptions.

The question really becomes why did the board do this now, in sneaky fashion? What is the urgency to ban both the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers? Who gave the Southern Poverty Law Center the divine right to judge for us in Dayton? Has the SPLC ever heard of “Racial Justice Now”? Would they be a hate group? Although their site is far from as sophisticated or informative- I see some of the same language there that I see on the New Black Panther site.

Going to the SPLC site- to their “Hate Map” I grab their definitions:

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.

If we look at the first statement- I’d think the Dayton Board of Ed should be passing a resolution against Donald Trump before wondering about NOI or the NBPP.

And looking at the second, how they segue from “criminal acts” to “marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing” which are all, the last I checked, activities protected by the First Amendment.

In fact, the grouping of the local NOI and NBPP groups with the national- is in fact maligning an entire class of people- based not on actual facts or actions, but, guilt by association. I would say the local Montgomery County Democratic Party, which pressures people not to run, sends out smear mail about opponents, and engages in closed-door screening of candidates by a secret group- is more a danger to our community – especially since they have control of half the board of elections, than either of these local groups.

I sent an email to all the members of the Board of Ed this morning to ask them to admit or deny the way they handled this resolution- with the quote above about the agenda- exec session.

I received 2 responses- from Dr. Baguirov and John McManus. I am closing with their statements. You decide if this resolution was necessary, needed, racially motivated, legal, done out of fear….

Agenda of the meetings often is slightly amended, as it was nearly every month in the past years, and as it was on a couple of occasions at the March 1 meeting: item that was marked subject “A – Review of Report Cards” was moved to be discussed after other subjects and became Subject E – last in line. No objections to that it seems, even though printed agenda shows it as Subject A. So yes, the agenda was further adjusted with one more item in the end, on hate groups, and all was done fully in line with the law and board policy. Board meetings are public, advertised, and open, and after executive sessions there is some action taking place sometimes, as it happened on February 23, just a week prior. Thanks.

~Baguirov

Let me be clear that I only speak for myself here, as it is against board policy to speak for the board.
“Personally, until it was introduced, I was unaware that we would be voting on any kind of resolution of this nature. I listened to the discussion, though, and did vote for it in the end. After the article in the Dayton Daily News that stated that the groups had been classified as hate groups, I didn’t think I had a choice. With that being said, though, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the leaders and members of the two local groups and I don’t think that they personally have any hate in their hearts. They’re donating coats and shoes to kids who can’t afford them. That’s love, not hate. There is so much healing that needs to be done in this community, and I just hope and pray that it happens sooner rather than later.”
~McManus (and yes, apparently he writes in quotes)

 

 

 

 

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