Controversy ensues over voting method

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

On March 8, the board of trustees for Weston County School District No. 1 voted to approve contract extensions for six administrators by numbering the contracts instead of specifying the name, title or position of the employees as they went through the annual process of renewing their contracts.

After questions were raised by concerned citizens to the newspaper about the anonymous process, however, the board attached the names of the administrators to each number in the official meeting minutes.


As has been their customary practice when approving the renewal of contracts in the past, the board began their meeting by convening into an executive session to allow board members to discuss the merits of the six candidates up for renewal. Immediately after reconvening in open session, however, Board Chairman John Riesland said that the names of the administrators would be concealed when the board voted publicly to determine if their contract would be renewed.


Riesland announced that administrator contracts would be voted on individually, “and they’re numbered — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.”


Later in the meeting, when the board voted, they unanimously approved 5 of the contracts by a 9-0 tally, but the sixth was retained by a vote of 5-3 with one abstention.


According to Chairman John Riesland, the board decided to assign numbers rather than identify the employees by name or title as a professional courtesy to the administrators. 


“We wanted to let the superintendent (Brad LaCroix) visit with each administrator one on one before the public knew how the board voted,” he said. Riesland, who has served on the board since 1992 indicated that the board has approved contracts this way in the past.


According to the minutes provided by the district, the board unanimously voted to approve contract extensions for Newcastle Elementary School principal Brandy Holmes, Newcastle High School principal Bryce Hoffman, Newcastle Middle School principal Tyler Bartlett, curriculum director Sonya Tysdal and business manager Angie Holiday. The sixth administrator (Taren Olson), identified in the meeting as contract No. 5, received a split vote from the trustees. 


Dana Mann-Tavegia, Tina Chick, Dana Gordon, Joe Prell and Riesland voted to approve the contract extension for special education director Olson. Billy Fitzwater, Jason Jenkins and Sean Crabtree voted against the contract extension; Paul Bau abstained.


When asked about the process used by the trustees, News Letter Journal Publisher Bob Bonnar, who served on the WCSD #1 board from 2002-2014 and chaired the board for two years, said the board has voted to approve contracts “by list” in the past. He said, however, that is only possible when the group is in universal agreement.


“If approval is unanimous or consistent, the board has approved contracts in the past by list - meaning they vote to approve an entire list of contracts, which are then immediately available as public documents. When a board unanimously agrees to not issue a contract, there is no public document and that applicant or employee does not have their name or title revealed,” Bonnar explained. “This method does speed things up a bit when you remember that the board approves dozens of contracts at this time of year. It also allows the board to avoid singling out applicants or employees by name or title in an open meeting, but it is only possible when approval is unanimous for all applicants or employees.”

He said uncomfortable situations can arise if the board disagrees about a personnel issue, which could force them to discuss some things in public that would normally stay in a closed executive session.


“When a board disagrees and has to slug it out in open session, they might just have to look somebody in the eye and say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to them. It is a really tough thing to do, but it is the job,” Bonnar said. “In the long run I think the decision to temporarily conceal an identity probably made the situation even more uncomfortable, but I’m glad that district officials resolved the issue by making the information available shortly after hearing about citizen concerns.”

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