Open Meeting Clarification of May 9, 2000, Statement Regarding
District Standards of Honesty
Comments of ICCSD Board Member Nicholas Johnson
(NOT a Board document)
January 9, 2001

Johnson County Attorney Pat White has requested that the Board revisit its statement of May 9, 2000, regarding appropriate standards of honesty by District staff. He believes this should involve a public discussion rather than being a part of the “consent agenda.” The Board accepts the County Attorney’s judgment and proposal and responds this evening in accordance with it. I agree with the Board.

In addition to whatever remarks I may make during the course of that discussion, these comments provide a written explanation of my own position.

A brief recap and clarification may be useful.

Under sound management principles, and express Board governance policies, the Board is not involved in the evaluation of individual staff members’ performance.

The Board governs through its relationship with, and evaluation of, the Superintendent. In doing this, however, it is inevitable that what the Superintendent has or has not done will often involve his or her response to staff members’ performance. That does not mean the Board is evaluating the staff member. It is evaluating the Superintendent and the administrative and managerial structures and processes s/he has in place. The questions are “How could this have happened?” and “What can we do to prevent it in the future?” rather than “How can we punish the perpetrator?”

It’s similar to a university president’s review of a football coach’s program if a number of players are convicted of felonies. The president’s review is not to punish players, it’s to evaluate the preventative system the coach has in place.

The Open Meetings law expressly provides for the possibility of closed Board meetings to evaluate the performance of the Superintendent – if s/he consents to a closed session. That is what the Board members believed themselves to be doing on May 9th. It is what the Superintendent (who did consent) believed the Board was doing on May 9th. Indeed, he began that closed session by expressly stating that the meeting was about his performance and not that of the City High track coach.

I believed then, and now, that we have taken no action that in any way constitutes a sanction of the track coach – not before May 9th, not on May 9th, not since May 9th, and not this evening. The coach was not mentioned by name either in that statement nor by me this evening.

The Board has taken no action regarding the coach. It has not recommended action be taken by others. In fact, to this day it has never even been informed what action, if any, was taken by the City High Athletic Director, Principal or Superintendent. That was not the Board’s concern on May 9th and it is not my concern this evening. The Board’s focus was on the Superintendent’s administrative process – the connection, or disconnect, between the values of the Board and actual practices within the District.

Why then did the Board issue the statement it did on May 9th? The event in question involved a misrepresentation regarding participants in a track meet, and then lying about it. The incidents were widely reported, but evoked no critical comment from any District administrator that such behavior is considered inappropriate whether engaged in by students or adults – even coaches. The Board was concerned that students could form the wrong impression of acceptable behavior from such administrative silence. The buck stops here, with the Board. There was no one else to look to but ourselves.

Given the lack of such statements from others, and the Board’s unwillingness to force an administrator to make a statement s/he does not choose to make on their own, the Board came back into open session (as provided by the Open Meetings law) and issued the statement in question.

Like any writing, the statement might have been improved with time and editing. It could have been lengthened and more fully explained. And one can differ with the Board’s judgment about the importance of honesty. But neither the statement, nor the closed session, were in my judgment a violation of the Open Meetings law.

I believe there is a distinction between a school board’s issuing a statement expressing the values of the Board (admittedly arising out of a specific incident) and action by a Board punishing a named staff member for a violation of those values. I believe what this Board did was the former not the latter.

It is understandable that a casual observer might be confused by such distinctions – or disagree with my analysis. They are subtle distinctions. But such distinctions, however subtle, are nonetheless real.