AUGUSTA — School board members have censured one of their own.

Earlier this month the Augusta Board of Education voted to issue a reprimand to Ward 2 member Christopher Clarke for missing meetings and posting information on Facebook about administrator contract discussions that took place behind closed doors.

Clarke, meanwhile, said he didn’t mean to break any rules and he believes the board’s action against him is meant to silence him and make him look bad.

Ed Hastings, school board chairman, said the vote to censure the outspoken Clarke was necessary after he missed so many meetings that, at the meetings he did attend, he’d take up valuable time asking questions about matters that already had been discussed at meetings he missed. He also said it was intended to ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of the board’s executive sessions is maintained.

On May 22, board members met in executive session to discuss contract negotiations on a new contract for school administrators. After the closed-door session, the board voted to approve the contract, with 3.5% raises. After the meeting, that same night Clarke, who voted against the contract, took to Facebook to criticize the contract and wrote that he’d proposed a raise of only 1.5%, but he was ignored and silenced in executive session.

“I posted on Facebook that I wanted them to get a 1.5% raise. I feel administration makes too much money as it is and we could spend that money elsewhere,” Clarke said Friday. “In hindsight, I do feel as though there is a possibility I may have violated some rules, some policy. But I don’t think I did anything wrong, because everything I posted was public information.

“I do regret it and my apologies to anybody I may have wronged,” he added, “but I feel like the public has a right to know, and contract negotiations should not be done in executive session.”

Hastings said Clarke posting information about confidential discussions that took place in the executive session on social media angered members of the board who were involved in discussions they believed would be kept private.

“He posted what was discussed in the executive session. It caused quite a bit of outrage,” Hastings said. “Every single board member was calling me and texting me, within hours, about it.

“They felt one of the keys to the privacy of an executive session is it allows board members to speak their minds freely,” he added. “Where he was posting or tweeting or whatever it is he does, that caused great unease.”

Clarke said he removed the Facebook post as soon as he learned he was being censured and that he didn’t know what he posted was supposed to be kept confidential.

Board members voted 6-1 to censure Clarke at their June 12 meeting; he was the opposing vote.

Censuring a member, in which the board issues a letter to the member, does not have any additional consequences and does not require a board member to resign.

Hastings said he suggested to Clarke twice that he should consider resigning if he didn’t have time to meet his responsibilities as a board member, but Clarke declined to do so.

He said he has no plans to resign and he was censured because other board members want to silence and discredit him because he often speaks up against policies other board members want and questions proposals that come to the board.

“I feel this is an effort by the board as a whole to make me look bad, because I’ve been very vocal since day one,” Clarke said. “I’m not a yes man. I’m going to stick it out and I’m going to continue to fight for my constituents and what’s right for our school district and our city. That’s what I was elected to do and will do.”

Hastings disagreed that it was an effort to silence Clarke, though he acknowledged Clarke is often disruptive at meetings — in part by asking questions about issues that other board members already have discussed at meetings he missed. He said Clarke missing meetings and sharing confidential information violates the board’s ethics policy.

“I’ve been very conscientious of allowing him, when he raises his hand, to address the board,” Hastings said, adding the censure “was not done lightly, that’s for sure. It’s not something I ever imagined myself having to do.

“But in order to try to maintain a level of professionalism on the board, I had to find a methodology to say we disagree with the action of this board member and they feel his actions are not in line with proper board procedure,” he added. “The board is in a good place. It’s moving forward. I really don’t want to see it shut down just because one member has chosen to get on his bully pulpit and run with it.”

The other reason cited in Clarke’s censure was that he missed too many board and committee meetings, with Hastings listing nine meetings Clarke has missed since January.

Clarke said board members voted at a workshop session in January to excuse all his absences up to May 1.

He said he missed several Wednesday night board meetings because he was taking classes to seek certification as an emergency medical technician, which he said would help him serve the community, including in his role as a volunteer firefighter in Chelsea. The classes have concluded, Clarke said, and he only needs to take and pass a test to become certified. He said he will not miss any more school board meetings.

He said he missed two meetings after the ones that had been approved by the board. One was because his class meeting night was rescheduled because of snow and the other because his daughter broke her arm and he went with her to the emergency room instead of going to the meeting.

Hastings said Clarke missed more meetings than just two that had not been excused by the board. He said the board’s vote to “excuse” Clarke’s absences from some meetings was held at his request in light of a board policy that states if a board member misses three regular meetings, without being excused by the board chairperson, the member’s board position could be deemed to be vacant. He asked board members if they wanted to excuse Clarke from the board meetings that conflicted with Clarke’s EMT classes, and they voted that they did.

However, he said Clarke then exacerbated the problem by not telling him in advance that he was going to miss meetings, including meetings of the Personnel Committee, of which Clarke is the chairman.

Clarke was elected as a write-in candidate in 2017 to represent Ward 2, receiving 109 votes. He defeated Sara Squires, also a write-in candidate, who received 95 votes.

 

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