Transparency policy long planned move, says board
Although it coincided with the first meeting led by new Granville Board of Education President John Steves, school officials said the move towards increased transparency had been in the planning stages for some time.
“We worked on that for more than a year” Steves said later. “I didn’t do a very good job at the board meeting. I was concerned with running the meeting I should have gotten more information to (the press) about what we were trying to do,” he said.
Steves said he was unhappy with himself the changes appeared to be sweeping changes he made after gaining the board presidency.
“I wish I’d said more during the meeting that this was a group thing that we’re trying to present to the public about being more open,” he said.
Superintendent Mark Bessen said the impetus to start towards a new way of conducting the meetings had come from a number of places, including his own office.
“What wasn’t known was there was a full process behind this,” Bessen said.
“When I came in, I saw how the meetings had been conducted and knew that had to change,” he said. Even prior to his hiring, Bessen said interim Superintendent Greg Aidala noted issues with the way the board meetings were being conducted.
Steves said it was a case of all of the board members being comfortable with a way of conducting meetings which had been taking place for many years.
Since that time board members have been attending workshops and seminars as well as meeting with New York State open government expert Robert Freeman about how to conduct a meeting that is transparent to the public and protects employees and student’s rights at the same time.
The process involved training that is ongoing, Steves said.
“It wasn’t like a switch was turned and something happened overnight. All nine board members were involved, it was really a team effort it’s the whole board working together for the good of the community and the good of the children,” Bessen said.
Long time president now vice president Kathy Nelson said the new way of running a meeting is just that, new, to the members so they’re still getting used to the process, particularly when it comes to confidential matters and deciding what becomes public and what has to remain private.
“We still have things we have to do confidentially we’re trying to figure out how to do that and be open,” Nelson said.
“We don’t want to stifle discussion, but you need to have discussion to make decisions. In order to have that discussion we had to figure out how to do that within the realm of the open meetings laws,” she said.