Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Did Fox C-6 Stop Recording School Board Meetings?

I told my parents I had an audio recording of the recent June 2013 school board meeting. I wanted them to hear what Superintendent Dianne Critchlow's response was to my Public Comments and the fact that she kept me from responding to her statements. This is how our Superintendent handles things which allows her to throw out information that is false or misleading in order to keep the truth from the public.

After I played the audio of my public comments and Superintendent Critchlow's response for my parents, I played some of the audio from David "SuperDave" Day's Blog Talk Radio Show so they could hear his impression of the school board meeting. I told me parents that I didn't see the "arrogant looks on Ms. Critchlow's face" or the "ridiculous looks" that Super Dave said she was making as I spoke at the board meeting. I wasn't looking at our Superintendent as I was speaking. I was reading from my notes as quick as I could. You only get 3 minutes to address to board during Public Comments. According to board policy 0403, "A period of thirty minutes will be allotted to residents of the School District and staff at the beginning of the meeting to give the Board the opportunity to listen to citizens. The Board is very interested in citizen viewpoints and problems." With 30 minutes allotted for Public Comments and only 1 or 2 people speak at most board meetings, you would think the 3 minutes could be increased to allow for more comments to be made. Our board policy states that the Board is very interested in citizen viewpoints and problems. For some reason, I just don't get the feeling that they care to really hear about those viewpoints and problems or do anything about them.

I told my father that I always record school board meetings I attend because the minutes aren't always accurate or lack detail. Therefore, the public doesn't know what really happened at the board meeting or what was really discussed or commented on to the board. The public only gets our Superintendent's version of what occurred at the meeting. That's when my father told me that he used to audio record all school board meetings when he was an assistant superintendent and while he was on the school board at Fox. He said he kept the recordings for at least a year before getting rid of them. I found that very interesting considering the fact that I have been asking our school board to audio or video record Fox's board meetings for more than 2 years now. I've never received a response to that question from our board. Nor, have I seen any effort made towards posting recordings of board meetings on the district website.

On May 17, 2011, I sent an email to then board president Ruth Ann Newman asking for a response to the questions I asked at the April 2011 board meeting as well as questions I asked at the December 2010 board meeting. School board policy states that "All questions will be responded to by an appropriate person within the week whenever possible."

Apparently, our school board doesn't follow this policy. I received an arrogant email response that same day from Superintendent Critchlow (Brown at the time) regarding my concerns. One of my concerns was how poorly my Public Comments were documented in the December 2010 board meeting minutes. Critchlow responded to this concern with the following, “The Board secretary contacted MSBA's legal counsel the following day after the April meeting. They informed her that the district was in compliance in the manner in which the BOE minutes are reported.”

According to our Superintendent, someone checked on my concern but then didn't bother to respond to my concern until I emailed nearly a month later asking for a response. Certainly the manner in the which the BOE minutes are reported would comply with the law because they are posted for the public on the district website. However, I doubt the public would agree that documenting a Public Comment as "Concerns within the district." doesn't meet the requirements of our board policy that states, "The minutes of all Board meetings shall be accurate, complete and meet all legal requirements." It raises questions such as, what were my concerns? The district's response in reviewing their minutes would have to be "Concerns within the district." because that is how they documented it. Does that sound "accurate" and "complete"? I don't think so. That's why our board meetings need to be audio or video recorded.

The public needs to know what the concerns are of citizens in our school district and not just what our Superintendent wants to provide to the public. The minutes as they were documented for the December 2010 board meeting gives the appearance that the school is trying to hide citizen's concerns from the public. It's not just our Superintendent's fault because the school board approves the minutes each month at the beginning of the board meeting. So, they are aware of what was written in the meeting minutes before they approve them.

Why and When Did Fox Stop Recording School Board Meetings?
I've been asking our school board to audio or video record the board meetings for at least 2 years now and publish them on the district website like they do in other school districts. I've never received a response to that question from our school board. Is that because our Superintendent doesn't want that to happen? The public doesn't even know that I asked the school board this question because it was never documented in the board meeting minutes.

I've provided transcripts of portions of our board meetings from my audio recordings to our board and Superintendent when things weren't done as they were stated they would at board meetings. If there isn't a recording of a board meeting, there's no way to hold our Superintendent or our school board accountable for what was said at the meeting. That's why the taxpaying public should demand that the district record and publish these recordings on the district website. If other school districts can do this and the city of Arnold and Jefferson County Council can do this, then Fox can do it as well. Having an audio recording of the meeting makes it difficult for our Superintendent to give just her version of what occurred at the board meeting.

Contact Your School Board Members
Contact your school board members and tell them that you would like our school district to start video or audio recording school board meetings and publishing them on the district website. That's the only way you are going to get an accurate account of our school board meetings.

Who knows? Maybe Fox is recording our school board meetings. My father said he used to record all of the meetings when he was an assistant superintendent for the district. Perhaps they just don't want the public to have the recordings. No one has answered my questions as to why we can't record our board meetings and publish them on the district website. Mehlville records their meetings. Parkway records their meetings. Francis Howell records their meetings. Why can't Fox?

Perhaps it's because a district attorney once told a parent advocate that she didn't want them recording their conference call with the school because, "Tape recordings are notoriously unreliable". Really? How is an audio recording "notoriously unreliable"? The school district records and transcribes Due Process Hearings. Are those audio recordings "notoriously unreliable"?

School District Wants A Double Standard
Dan Baker, Gee Palmer and Luann Domek audio recorded their phone call to a doctor without informing the doctor that they were recording the call. Was that a private conversation? The district attorney deemed that audio recording reliable enough to submit as evidence in a Due Process Hearing. Perhaps the district just doesn't want to be recorded. However, it's OK for the district to record their conversations with others and not inform them.

Superintendent Critchlow recently proposed the possibility of making a change to our school board policies at the May 2013 school board meeting to prohibit the public from recording private conversations. Her proposed policy change gives the appearance that the district wants a double standard. It's alright for the district to record private conversations but it's NOT alright for the parents or citizens to record private conversations or meetings. Our Superintendent knows that Missouri is a "one party" consent state. That means that if you are a party to the conversation, you don't have to inform the other party that you are recording the conversation.

Perhaps audio recordings from private citizens wanting to accurately document meetings and conversations is causing a problem for our Superintendent and district administrators. It seems that audio recordings sometimes contradict the district's version of what happened. Maybe it would be a good idea for our Superintendent and administrators to always the truth when informing the board and the public on what is going on in our school district. Is the district truly in compliance and properly following the law? It reflects poorly on them when audio recordings and documentation shows otherwise.

Requesting Corrections To Board Minutes
When I asked for corrections on board meeting minutes in the past from my recordings, our school board secretary Debbie Davis responded via email with the following statement, "The minutes that were transcribed are reflective of what I heard at the meeting.  The minutes are not a verbatim recording of the meeting."

Our school board meeting minutes should be accurate and complete as required by our school board policies. With all the problems going on in our school district, you need to know what's really happening in our school district and not just what our Superintendent and board members want you to know?