Monday, April 2, 2007

Compromised Discussions

I think the Rochester Board of Education has some difficult times ahead now that it is unclear whether what is said in closed session will stay in closed session.

I much prefer public meetings, where everyone can watch the meeting unfold, and hear what is said in the context in which it was said. But the law does allow for private, non-public meetings for a few specific reasons, one of which is to discuss negotiation strategies. After all, it wouldn't be much of a strategy if the other side knew what you were thinking!

If the board is to hold these closed sessions, one should be able to trust that discussions held in those closed sessions will stay confidential, so they are not taken out of context or used for political purposes.

At the last two board meetings, trustees -- including me -- began flirting with the confidentially by making public statements that include generalizations about topics of discussions which have occurred in the board's closed sessions.

I believe allowing a conversation to go there is risky, but perhaps necessary to make a point. Done tactfully, such generalizations should be OK as long as the point is not to put words is someone's mouth.

However, at the last public meeting Trustee Tim Greimel took the next step on that slippery slope by essentially saying, "In closed session, Mr. Reno said..."

Despite the differences I've had with other board members, I have never tried to publicly attribute to them any specific comments they may have made in private, whether in closed session or in individual conversations or emails. I have respected the privacy of those discussions, despite the fact that revealing specific comments would've come in handy during various public debates.

Closed sessions allow for a different level of conversation. Participants can float ideas, be straightforward, and explore concepts without fear of having them taken out of context, or without having to make sure they cover every possible detail in a "statement". It's more like a conversation, or a "normal" business meeting, where a dialogue happens and ideas can develop in a "risk free" environment.

That is, until now.

Even politics, as ugly as they can be, need to have some basic standards of decency and professional conduct, and those have now been compromised.

And now that we've seen that line get crossed, I must wonder if it will lead to a further downward spiral.


David Zemens said...

Would you be interested in sharing here just what Tim Greimel attributed to you? Since it has already been disclosed...

Mike Reno said...

Well, it's not really "out there" because our board stopped the practice of keeping detailed meeting minutes, so it's only known to those there were there, or those that watch the video.

Let's first look at a hypothetical situation.

The cost of the healthcare for the district this year is approximately $10 million. A one percent raise is equal to approximately $575,000 (plus FICA and retirement)

Would a 3% raise in exchange for a 10% contribution be more beneficial to the district and the employees than a 1% raise and no contribution? How about a 2% raise and a 5% contribution?

Play with the percentages and let me know what you think. Also, whatever you come up with, be sure to bear in mind that it's a negotiation, and there always needs to be "give and take", so be prepared to back off a bit from where you start. Do you have any other suggestions to toss out for the sake of discussion?

Collect your thoughts, and we'll discuss it over the course of a few months in private meetings.

Then, when I'm mad at you, I'll pluck out a comment from that private discussion that suits my political purpose, and toss it out into the public.

Which brings us to the meeting on March 26...

So, to directly answer your question, here is what he said, "... and I think it's worth noting that he (RENO) also initially did not want to agree to any negotiating parameters that would require teachers to contribute anything less than 10% of the premium cost..."

I'd be happy to talk with anyone about my perspectives on the balance between compensation, health care costs, and their combined impact on the school budget.

But, I would much prefer that it be in my words.

You're right; the "damage is done", and I hope I've shown that it's a slippery slope.