Source: Sherman Publications

Tweets continue

by Phil Custodio

May 21, 2014

A week after receiving the school attorney's legal opinion recommending Board of Education members not post to social media about board business, board Trustee Steve Hyer did just that.

Hyer posted about 15 tweets during the May 19 school board meeting – headline-type updates as the board worked its way through the agenda.

According to school attorney George P. Butler, school board members’ live tweets at a recent meeting are “likely not violations of the OMA (Open Meetings Act).”

However, “communication via social media during and in between board meetings can easily violate the OMA, particularly if a quorum of board members are posting and responding to messages,” said Butler in his legal opinion to Clarkston Board of Education, May 7.

The school board's policy committee will consider revising rules regarding social media, using NEOLA and Michigan Association of School Board recommendations as a guide, said Trustee Elizabeth Egan at the May 12 board meeting.

“We need to be very careful. We all use social media. We all use email,” said

Egan, who, along with trustees Hyer and Cheryl McGinnis, posted tweets at the

April 28 school board meeting. “We don’t want shut people down if they want to give their opinion.”

A policy would have to balance freedom of expression with maintaining government transparency, she said.

McGinnis said her tweets are personal.

“My Twitter account is my personal account. My Facebook account is my personal account. It’s personal,” said the trustee, whose Twitter feed includes a May 8 tweet, “#CCCSBOE 5/12 mtg Discussions, purchases, calendar, OS Budget, CCS Budget update, board & sup eval timelines, social media & televising of mtg #Bringpillow.”

Board Vice President Sue Boatman said tweets have their place, but should not be derogatory.

“That’s in our operating procedures – respect for each other,” said Boatman, who supports board members tweeting about students’ and teams’ achievements.

Comments should have been made openly at the April 28 workshop meeting, said board Treasurer Joan Patterson.

“It was a very important meeting. We reviewed a hefty notebook administration put lot of time into,” Patterson said. “It was tedious and hard, but we needed to spend the time to go through it. I appreciate comments made during open meeting for everyone to hear – I wanted to listen to what everyone had to say.”

Administration presented the first draft of its Challenge-Opportunity book at the April 28 meeting, outlining the district’s operational plan for the 2015 school year.

McGinnis said the discussion should be about more than tweets.

“We need to talk about the whole picture,” she said. “Not just tweeting and Facebook – everything.”

McGinnis said the board can only act as a single body – speaking individually, as in recent stories in The Clarkston News regarding the school board’s strategic plan, is inappropriate.

In February 2012, Butler was invited by McGinnis to discuss public comments by school board members. He said district bylaws require board members speaking in public to say they are not speaking for the board but as only a citizen.

“A couple board members at one point in time decided not to act as one voice,” said McGinnis at the May 12 meeting.

“Here at this table is the only place we can state our opinions,” said the trustee, who tweeted on April 28, “Dysfunctional #BOELEADERSHIP. Why? #Rodrock needs love.” “It’s not ethical to state opinion outside this table.”

As school board members, they do not have individual authority as would a senator or representative, McGinnis said.

"We are not equal to a senator or representative," she said. “There’s a drastic difference – our only power is as a board.”

“I don’t see that difference,” responded board Secretary Craig Hamilton.

“I don’t necessarily see it either,” Lieblang said. “I’m a proponent of anyone being able talk to the press about their personal opinions. I’d find it very difficult to say to anyone, you don’t have that right to talk to the press."

Patterson said the strategic plan was approved by the whole board, and the News just asked their opinions on it.

“I thought it was a way for our citizens to hear our comments on something we approved,” she said. “It offered insight on the new plan – I appreciated it.”

Hyer, a Certified Board Member with Michigan Association of School Boards who has earned MASB Level 5 Master Diamond Award, tweeted dozens of times during the April 28 meeting. The trustee did not comment during the discussion on tweets, May 12.

According to the Michigan Attorney General’s Open Meeting Act Handbook, “use of e-mail or other electronic communications among board members during an open meeting – e-mail, texting, or other forms of electronic communications among members of a board or commission during the course of an open meeting that constitutes deliberations toward decision-making or actual decisions violates the OMA, since it is in effect a ‘closed’ session.”

Also, “the use of electronic communications for discussions or deliberations, which are not, at a minimum, able to be heard by the public in attendance at an open meeting are contrary to the OMA’s core purpose – the promotion of openness in government.”

According to case law, Ryant v. Cleveland Township, 2000, deliberation means “any affirmative or opposing views,” as well as debate and discussion.

A Facebook post on the issue, April 30, was viewed 3,836 times and generated 57 comments, which by a three-to-one margin were against tweeting during a board meeting.

More posts

Trustee Steve Hyer's tweets, recorded at 11:35 p.m., May 19, include:

Steve Hyer@stevejhyer 3h

@stacipuzio provided #ccsboe MEAP update. Scores increasing & CCS moving toward top of county in most areas measured #testscoresdonttellall

Steve Hyer@stevejhyer 3h

#ccsboe approves resolution supporting Oakland ISD budget 6-0 vote #statelegislaturesayswehaveto dothis

Steve Hyer@stevejhyer 3h

#ccsboe approves purchase of Practical Assessment Exploration System for student support svcs 6-0 vote (vocational & life skills training)

Steve Hyer@stevejhyer 3h

#ccsboe approves 2014-15 calendar w/ 6-0 vote. It will be on CCS website shortly #nowyoucanplan

Steve Hyer@stevejhyer 3h

Congrats Marianne Price, Tara Marchand, Kelly Thomas & Jon Webster on receiving tenure tonight! 6-0 vote #GreatTeachersThatCareAboutOurKids