EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

June 19, 2014

Letter: Public board decisions should not be kept secret

To the editor:

Thank you for The Eagle-Tribune’s coverage of the resignation of SAU 55 Chairman Jason Cipriano. To my mind, the controversy concerning Mr. Cipriano’s resignation comes down to two issues: the reasonableness of disclosing information/conclusions of a non-public meeting; and the accountability of elected officials to voters through communication with the press.

Although this distinction seems to have dwindling acknowledgement, not everything in non-public is necessarily confidential. If it were, there would be no public minutes. The fact that SAU 55 non-public minutes have one or two topic sentence descriptors with no discussion content whatsoever shows how the board is failing to distinguish between what should be confidential and the happenstance of non-public discussion.

Conclusions leading to action made in non-public should be made public. That, at the very least, is what the public should demand.

To my mind, Mr. Cipriano not only did nothing wrong, he should be praised for respecting the voters enough to communicate to them through the press what was owing them of their elected officials. The idea that absolutely everything said in non-public is a big secret to be kept forever when the minutes are not sealed is ludicrous and harmful to the public interest.

Since this issue involved the performance review of the superintendent and as such was a personnel issue, the board as a whole should have issued a press release in consultation with the superintendent out of courtesy. That the board neglected to do this put the chairman in an awkward position but he nevertheless rightly felt the voters were owed some comment.

The article quoted me as saying I think superintendent reviews should be conducted in public and that is correct, but in that I am very much an outlier and my assertion is much more a philosophical position than a practical objection to our proceedings. Just because the law allows non-public sessions for certain topics doesn’t mean that every discussion of those topics should be done in non-public. This is another distinction that is increasingly seldom made.

Donna Green

Sandown representative

Timberlane School Board

SAU 55 Board

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