Tram’s New Rule – It’s Legal. Is it Smart?

Some time ago, Lily Tram, the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board president, made the decision to change the ease with which a board member would be allowed to get an item on the agenda “for future consideration.” Among the many possibilities, she decided that a majority of the Board must formally vote to approve it. Even though Gilbert Public Schools belong to ASBA (Arizona School Board Association), which provides legal assistance, the GPS Board obtained outside counsel regarding the legality of her rule.

It’s legal. Is it smart?

Should you ever attend a board meeting, you will see a heading on the agenda titled "Items for Future Consideration." If there are any items listed, you as a Gilbert citizen, will see only a title of an item under consideration. On 9/13/2011, there was one that was ultimately considered: Board Team Building.

The problem is this: At the board meeting, you will witness board members voting to approve or deny future "items for consideration" without knowing or being able to discuss the "substance, merits, or issues relating to the proposed agenda item.“ For you see, if they speak a whit about any of that, they are in violation of Open Meeting Law.

Would you formally vote for or against something without being able to ask an intelligent question concerning its value or merits? Of course not! It goes against everything we are taught, which is to be "informed on the substance, merits, or issues" before casting our vote!

It isn’t as if the Board president couldn’t handle this situation in some other way. It is one thing to “gain support” from another board member to bring forward an item of future discussion. It is another to formally cast your VOTE for or against that item.

If I were going to err one way or another, I would vote YES on every one of those requested items. Even if only one board member requested it, that Board member was elected by thousands of Gilbert voters who value that board member’s judgment. That constituency deserves to be represented.

I spoke out against this new policy at the 9/13/2011 meeting, as follows:

“Over the last several weeks, I know that you have struggled with this issue of the best way to bring forth board member recommended items for future consideration. You even hired an outside attorney to provide advice.

I have some concerns about all this and appreciate your listening to them. First, it appears that this laborious solution to your previous procedure was the result of one or more board members asking for too much information, creating an undue burden on staff.

Rather than dealing directly with that issue, consulting with the new board member/s offering them the benefit of your experience in the spirit of helpfulness, using a collaborative approach, you instead chose to establish a policy that would simply make it tougher for an item to be considered at all.

From my perspective, a Gilbert citizen, I read the statement next to Item #8.0 and worry that you may not realize the implications of that statement. Basically, you are willing to VOTE, yes or no, without discussion on the substance, merits, or issues relating to the proposed agenda item.”

If you are willing to cast a VOTE on something you know virtually nothing about, you are devaluing one of your most vital roles as a board member.
At the Gilbert Town Council, a majority VOTE is not required to get something on the agenda. On the dais, a Council member who wishes an item to be considered simply completes a short form with a brief description of the item, passes it to the council member sitting next to him. That Council member reads the short title and signs off on it, or passes it along. If 3 council members sign, the item will be considered. That is NOT a majority, because the Town Council is composed of 7 members. There is no violation of Open Meeting Law. It has worked out well.

Two school board members is not a majority, but it provides some vetting of a proposed item.

Also, you are not operating in a vacuum. Each of you represents a constituency. So, those items you see and are voting on very likely represent concerns of that constituency.”