Hiding behind closed doors

Published 1:14 pm Saturday, January 31, 2015

As President John F. Kennedy once said, “The very word, secrecy, is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are as a people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”

Executive session is a necessary evil, and it would be perhaps best if it were treated as such and scheduled less frequently by boards. One case in point took place on Wednesday afternoon.

That day, the Isle of Wight County School Board scheduled a closed session meeting to discuss the superintendent search. In part, it was a legal closed session. That’s because the main item seemed to be around a group of bidders that could negatively impact the County’s negotiating strategy if made public. Companies were bidding in regard to which outside group would be used to conduct the board’s superintendent search.

Yet, seemingly, something else changed behind those doors, or leading up to it. Two board members, Denise Tynes and Robert Eley, had initially spoken publicly last month about first looking inward for candidates to become the next superintendent, which is being vacated by Dr. Katrise Perera.

It could be possible that they organically changed their minds on their own leading up to the meeting. However, it certainly makes people suspicious, given the hour-long session behind closed doors.

Meeting too often in executive session can be a dangerous habit, as it becomes too easy to veer off topic from what you went behind those closed doors to discuss.

Yes, we believe there is a difference between whether you want to look internally yourself or hire an external source to look outside the system for the next superintendent and the item penned for closed session. Nothing about this discussion needed to involve announcing the bidders, so it should have been discussed beforehand in open session.

Instead, the board opened the session back up and voted unanimously to spend $10,500 to hire the Virginia School Board Association to conduct the superintendent search with absolutely no discussion. How they unanimously got there from the previous meeting in which a decision had not been made in regard to the method of the superintendent search left reporters and members of the public scratching their heads.

At the end of the day, hiring the VSBA might be in the best interest of the school system — and the public. But because of the lack of transparency, it’s also certainly easy to understand why people might be suspicious.