Yesterday we wrote about how Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre had tried to stop incoming Board of Education member Amber Rountree from attending an orientation because she’s using her sick days as maternity leave. The county law department told her she was in the clear, she attended the meeting, and she told us, “All’s well that end’s well.”
At the time, we noted that Rountree had also asked the law department about the legality of McIntyre’s meeting restrictions for the Teacher Advisory Council. But it turns out that’s not all she has asked about. As Mike Donila reports over on his blog, Rountree asked the county lawyers for an opinion on a 2010 document entitled, “Agreements Between the Board of Education and Superintendent”—a four-page memo that
new Board members are supposed to sign regulating their conduct is a policy ostensibly regulating Board members’ conduct.*
You can read the entire document here— and holy Mary mother of Jesus, is it a piece of work. For instance, any board member who votes against an agenda item, if asked for comment by the media, is instructed to “a) decline to comment, b) note that they will support the vote of the Board, c) note that they will support the vote of the Board and articulate the rationale for the approved vote; or d) refer media to the Board Chair for comment.” Also, Board members are told to “refrain from any questions or statements intended solely to embarrass or stump staff or the Superintendent.” We’re speechless.
And as you might think, if you have any kind of basic concept of constitutional rights, these items—and they are far from all of them—aren’t exactly legal. Law Director Richard Armstrong writes, “At its base, these items limit Board Members’ freedom of speech, as well as their responsibility to speak openly and freely on all school issues. … It goes without elucidation that free, open and vigorous debate in meeting, forums, the press and before the public in general should be the norm for the members of any deliberative body. Any restriction on such is inimical to the concept of representative government.” SMACKED. DOWN.
We’ve called McIntyre’s office for comment, and we’ve left messages for several Board members, including Rountree. We’ll update when we’ve got more.
*UPDATE: Board members Karen Carson and Lynne Fugate say the “agreements” are basically a memorandum of understanding, not a signed contract, and that no one actually signs off on anything. Rountree confirms she was not asked to sign the document in the orientation meeting, unlike how Donila characterized it. We’re still waiting on comment from McIntyre, and we’ll have a much more nuanced look at everything posted first thing tomorrow.