AUGUSTA — The school board went into an executive session late Wednesday night without the votes required by Maine law — and the board’s own policy — for entering into such closed-door sessions.
Board members, on a motion to enter into executive session for the purpose of evaluating Superintendent James Anastasio, had a tied 4-4 vote. Kim Martin, the board chairwoman, then voted to break the tie, voting in favor of going into executive session, which the board later did.
However, Maine’s Public Access and Proceedings law and the school board’s policy on executive sessions both require a yes vote of three-fifths of the members present in order to enter executive session legally for any purpose.
A 5-4 vote falls just short of the three-fifths threshold. At least six board members present would have had to vote to enter executive session to make the decision legal.
“In the moment last night, I had to make a decision and I made that decision based on what I knew of the law,” Martin said Thursday. “Since then, I’ve sought clarification from the board attorney.”
The violation was pointed out at the meeting after the vote and before board members went into their closed-door session by Tom Connors, an at-large board member, who said a three-fifths vote was required and the 5-4 vote did not meet that threshold.
Martin said Wednesday night that it was her understanding that the 5-4 vote constituted a majority as well as a three-fifths vote. Kathy Casparius, business manager for the school system, said the 5-4 vote was “slightly less than” the three-fifths majority, but then referred to a book on Robert’s Rules of Order and told board members an executive session can be entered into after a majority vote.
However, Maine’s Revised Statutes, Chapter 13: Public Records and Proceedings, Subchapter 1: Freedom of Access states, “An executive session may be called only by a public, recorded vote of 3/5 of the members, present and voting, of such bodies or agencies.”
The Augusta Board of Education’s policy on executive sessions, adopted in 2011, mirrors that requirement, stating that to enter executive session, the board must “have a public recorded vote of 3/5 of members present and voting.”
Connors declined to comment Thursday, citing another board policy, “Board Relations with the Media,” which also was adopted in 2011 and which states, in part, “When individual Board members receive requests from news media representatives for information or comment, they shall refer such inquiries to the Board Chair who shall be public spokesperson for the Board.”
Martin said she’s never before encountered a similar situation, with a close vote on whether to enter into executive session.
“It’s not anything I even anticipated being an issue,” she said.
Martin said no action was taken by the board following the executive session, and the evaluation of Anastasio, a review of his job performance as superintendent Maine school boards generally perform annually, is still in the process of being done.
Board members who voted against going into executive session Wednesday said there were still some unresolved issues regarding the evaluation, so they weren’t ready to conclude the evaluation process in the executive session.
“I’m voting against executive session; I feel we’re not ready, that we have more to discuss,” said Katie Vose, Ward 4 board member. “There are still parts of the evaluation process we haven’t gone over yet.”
The other members to vote against entering executive session were Connors and at-large members Laura Hamilton and Edward Hastings.
Deborah Towle, Ward 2 board member and one of the five board members who voted to enter the session, said nothing had changed since a Monday night executive session of the Personnel Committee to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation at which board members, other than the addition of comments to the evaluation. Also, she said, members were given an opportunity to amend those comments. She said the evaluation was a working document and the board should move forward with it in executive session.
Martin agreed the board should move forward, or at least meet in executive session to discuss moving forward, with the evaluation.
“We left executive session Monday night with a majority agreement on the document that was created,” Martin said at the Wednesday meeting. “At this point we need to go ahead.”
Other board members who voted to go into executive session were Ward 1’s Jennifer Day, Ward 3’s April Cusick, and Jennifer Neumeyer, at-large.
Maine law requires most public meetings of any public body such as a school board or city council to be conducted in public, with only a few exceptions. Exceptions allowed to take place behind closed doors include evaluation of personnel if public discussion reasonably could be expected to cause damage to an individual’s reputation or the individual’s right to privacy would be violated.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647