Wake County school board member Debra Goldman says she's taking on the role of board "watchdog."
During last week's board meeting, Goldman, a Republican, repeatedly raised concerns about the way she felt the new Democratic board majority was operating. She accused the board of committing several policy violations and not passing the "smell test" on email discussions.
"You’ve referred to me as the watchdog and I will pick up that mantle and go forward with it," Goldman said during the meeting.
Goldman's actions last week mirror similar behavior she showed at the Jan. 3 work session.
It started off last week with Democratic board chairman Kevin Hill reporting back on plans to resume the meetings that used to be held between the leadership of the school board and county commissioners.
Hearkening back to the unannounced Dec. 7 meeting that the new Democratic board members had with Michael Alves, Goldman said she had a "discomfort" about just the leadership of both boards meeting. She suggested that they have meetings of the full boards.
Hill said he would "share Goldman's discomfort" with Paul Coble, chairman of the board of commissioners.
Then when the board began talking about setting board meeting schedules, Goldman questioned whether it was an "arbitrary decision" by Hill to go back to allowing speakers to have three minutes during public comment. She said the change should have been approved by the full board.
Goldman later brought up during the work session that she "had a few policy issues she's like to bring up."
Goldman proceeded to charge that the board had violated Policy 1300 in not having a vote to schedule the Jan. 3 work session on student assignment. Then she alleged violations of several other board policies and procedures.
“It makes me very, very uncomfortable when we are doing things that are in violation, or perceived violation," Goldman said. "And if it’s not really a violation and it’s perceived by the public as a violation, then it needs to be addressed as well. So as a board if we are tasked with governing and we are under the watchful eye of AdvancED, then I feel very strongly if we have violations of our own policy, or again perceived violations of our own policy, then it is our obligation and duty and responsibility and legal obligation to all of the constituents in Wake County to make sure that we are bringing that back into alignment.
I don’t know what kind of sanctions there are or things that can happen, but AdvancED is watching us closely and looking for good governance and in the last two meetings I’ve heard from so many people in regard to this.
You’ve referred to me as the watchdog and I will pick up that mantle and go forward with it because these things are really, you know, I’ve been called a policy wonk, a watchdog whatever you want to call me, I intend to go forward auditing this process as we go and making sure we are in alignment and honoring our own board policies."
"I’m grateful," Hill responded. "I just wish you’d been that adamant the last few years.”
Hill drew laughs from the crowd.
"She didn’t want to take away your job," Republican board member John Tedesco said to Hill.
Later on in the work session, the board had a discussion on how to handle public records requests. Goldman asked the board to either halt the discussion so it could be discussed during the regular meeting or that everything said in the work session be repeated then.
It was Goldman, along with fellow Republican board member Deborah Prickett, who had requested that the issue be placed on the regular board meeting agenda.
Goldman kept it up during the discussion on student assignment, asking more questions about the Dec. 7 meeting with Alves.
Bob Geary noted Goldman's actions at the last two work sessions in a Tuesday online article for the liberal Independent weekly. He wrote that it helped keep the new majority from getting around to making changes in the student assignment plan.
"At their public sessions on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, the five demonstrated little ability to control their own agenda, allowing the Republican members, especially Debra Goldman, to filibuster them to distraction with all manner of issues other than diversity," Geary wrote. "Which is not to blame Ms. Goldman.
Geary said Goldman "just generally went on about tangential issues."
"If she was trying to gum them up, she succeeded beautifully," Geary wrote.
At the beginning of the regular meeting during board member comments, Goldman again raised her concerns about whether it was appropriate for Hill instead of the whole board to change the time for speakers back to three minutes.
Goldman said her concerns didn't express her opinion on whether there should be two or three minutes. But she said she's concerned that the way it was being changed could involve a potential violation of board policy.
Noting that school board policy says speakers can have two to three minutes, board attorney Ann Majestic said it's been board practice to leave the time up to the chair.
Hill said he'd use his prerogative as chair to have three minutes that night considering how he had publicly said before he would do so. But he agreed to have the full board discuss the issue.
During the discussion at the regular meeting about handling public records requests, Goldman talked about the concerns that Democratic board member Jim Martin had raised about handling requests for board member emails.
Goldman said the level of email discussion among board members about possibly changing policy had made her "very uncomfortable," leading to it being on the agenda.
Noting that she used to sit in the audience before being elected, Goldman said she would have liked to have thought then all the board deliberation was going in front of the crowd.
“To me if I was sitting there now, I’d be rather disturbed to know the level of discourse that goes on between board members on agenda-related items, on board business through our email system," Goldman said.
Goldman said she wanted a discussion on the legal and ethical issues of board email discussions.
"Board members should show restraint when it comes to communicating about board business if it is working toward making a decision on board business," Majestic said. "Having those conversations arrive at a committed decision is contrary to the spirit of the Open Meetings Law.
On the other hand, this exchange of emails was about clarifying the system’s practice and response to an email request so it was more about information exchange so I’m less uncomfortable — even though it was pretty active as you say — with that as opposed to who you’re going to vote for chair, or what’s your vote going to be on the student assignment plan or something like that or let me tell you why you should vote this way. That I think you should show restraint.”