BRATTLEBORO — A School Board member alleges the board she serves on violated its code of ethics and members have mistreated each other.
“As for board operations and differing understanding of operations, I don’t believe there has been malicious intent in situations where we may have not operated appropriately,” board member Michelle Luetjen Green said at the board meeting Tuesday. “I don’t want addressing discrepancies of our operating protocols to imply distrust of our board. But, if differing outlooks begin to impact our working relationships with one another and then trickle out onto the public floor, we need to pause and get on the same page.”
One of her issues is with the chairwoman’s hiring of attorney Kendall Hoechst without the full board’s authorization. Hoechst was hired to act as a firewall between the board and community members making reports for the district’s sexual assault investigation, which started after The Common’s ”No More Secrecy” in August 2021 detailed allegations against a retired teacher.
Board Chairwoman Kelly Young said she had understood that the board wanted her to hire an independent attorney but she would put it on a future agenda for authorization.
Green also said restorative practice training was scheduled without bringing it before the board for discussion and vote. Young said she met with the executive leadership of the board and they determined the training would be a good fit, then there were multiple discussions about it with the full board.
Green alleged a draft communication/outreach plan for the investigation fell outside the scope of the board and brought about questions on why some people had seen it when others had not before it came up at a public meeting. Young said she shared the document with the superintendent to get his input then the board publicly discussed it and it was further refined in a private meeting between administrators and board members without a full quorum.
“I believe groups of board members have met outside the board to do the work of the board and discuss board work, the direction of the board, and decisions agreed on that have ultimately created influence and not allowed for appropriate public discussion, transparency, and full board participation,” Green said.
She cited several examples in which she believes the reasoning for going into executive sessions were not properly indicated to the public.
Green said board members addressed personal grievances with her outside of appropriate procedure and they made no effort toward resolution.
“There have been public displays of misconduct and lack of professionalism, regarding respectfully voicing one’s opinion and respecting other board members, administrators, and members of the public,” she said. “This has also happened behind closed doors and we have received multiple public complaints.”
Green also said she had to “pursue a formal and legal process over the course of months to have a voice on this board and to have my concerns heard and questions acknowledged. This is important and I believe needs to be addressed separately, as it defines the culture of which some board members have clearly been excluded.”
“It is my hope that in acknowledging differing viewpoints of discord and appropriate process, that this board will prioritize appropriate board development training, so that we may formalize our expectations and standards of practice and work cohesively and effectively with every voice having a place at the table,” she said.
Board member Lana Dever described being “deeply concerned with the discourse and misinformation I keep hearing within our community.” Executive sessions are used to handle sensitive and confidential matters, she said.
“This board is in the middle of an assault investigation,” she said. “I can think of nothing more sensitive or confidential. There’s so much at stake if we do not get this right.”
Young acknowledged that everyone makes mistakes and offered to step down as chairwoman if she lost the confidence of the board. A motion to censure her failed 6-1, with one abstention.
Board member Shaun Murphy, the only member who voted in favor of the reprimand, told the Reformer he has been “disturbed by some of the exclamations in board meetings.”
“And when [Young] at the end of a board meeting, raised her voice and stood up, it just didn’t sit right with me in accordance with our code of ethics that we all signed in March,” he said, referring to an August meeting where Young and board member Liz Adams got into a contentious exchange with Green over entering executive session. “Since she made the motion to have herself censured ... and since I have been disturbed by her shouting at a meeting, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to voice my concern about how the board treated each other.”
Murphy said Green also expressed some other valid points.
Initially, Green said she supported the censure if that is what Young wanted. However, she ended up voting against it, calling for the board to “standardize our operating protocols.”
“It’s not about shaming someone,” she said, but having “a good working relationship.”
Jaci Reynolds of Brattleboro, former board member, thanked the board for having “a very uncomfortable” conversation. She said she believes it will help clear up misunderstanding and discord.
In an email to board members following the meeting, Green said she has reasons to believe her character was “slandered among board members and one sided misunderstandings gossiped about that, intentional or not, has led to a shift of treatment towards me by the majority of my fellow board members. I have found myself in an environment that has felt increasingly unwelcoming and disrespectful. At times, it has been threatening and hostile.”
Green said she believes the treatment has to do with her work on the supervisory union board, which she chairs. She recounted friction occurring over procedural ethics.
Supervisory union board members tried to oust her from chairwomanship in September. Tabled, the subject is coming up at this week’s meeting.
Before the discussion began Tuesday, Board member Tim Maciel acknowledged the board has been “very loose with parliamentary procedures.” Board members should not say whether they were advised by legal counsel on different subjects because that breaks the attorney-client privilege, he said.
That “doesn’t quite jive with my understanding,” Green said.
Earlier in the meeting, the board approved hiring a parliamentarian to help it better learn Robert Rules of Order. Deborah Lee Luskin of Newfane will be paid $250 a meeting with the board.
“We talked about potentially four meetings with the possibility of more,” Young said. “But it sounds like she would be flexible for the needs of the board.”
Young described being hopeful that the guidance would help the board “do better.”
Green noted Luskin’s experience as a town moderator in Newfane is significant. However, Green suggested the board could see how the recent purchase of books explaining the rules goes before hiring someone. She was the only board member to vote against the hiring.
Green and Reynolds asked if other trainers were sought. Luskin “came well recommended” and a few others could not commit to the task, Young said.