Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Inside/Outside City Hall
School Committee Cracks Down on Member Dissent

‘No Surprise Rule’ among new restrictions.


The Portland School Committee at its January 11th workshop meeting ‘adopted by consensus’ norms for the School Committee members to follow in their work. “Norms” doesn’t refer to the crazy postal carrier of the 80s sitcom Cheers, but rather is newspeak for the new rules the Committee members will be expected to adhere to.
It is against the law for municipal committees to make decisions in workshops – even by consensus. The School Committee is well aware of this. I personally reminded them at their first meeting of the year, when the Chair reported that they had decided upon the Superintendent’s salary prior to the meeting. It is very distressing that at their very next meeting, they violated the state law so blatantly by making a decision outside of their regular business meeting.
The “norms” that they “adopted” include a “no surprise rule”. This rule requires School Committee members to notify the Chair if they intend to disagree with a position taken in a workshop or other place, on matters that have been previously discussed. Members are also supposed to send any questions they have to the Chair in advance of the meeting. The only point of such rules would be to stifle public discussion and to showcase a united School Committee that only has good things to say about the Portland educational system.
Other “norms” adopted by the Committee include:
- Do not to discuss with the media such things as student discipline matters, personnel, or labor negotiations.
- Use press releases more frequently to celebrate accomplishments.
- Use emails for logistical and organizational purposes only. Be aware that they could be public record.
- Pay attention to the presenter/ speaker during meetings.
- Keep questions fact-based.
- Come to meetings prepared.
The School Committee Chair Ellen Alcorn noted that the “norms” were going be printed on placemats that would be placed on members’ desks to remind them they are to work in lockstep with the party line.

Ed Suslovic Gets it Right
The Portland City Council, while claiming to be pro-housing development, again showed its true colors in being pro - status quo and anti-development. They took up a resolution on February 6th opposing a legislative bill that would protect developers who have started the review process. That bill, LD 1481, would still give a City Council 30 days to nullify a planning board or planning authority decision, but that is not good enough. The Portland City Council wants to hold a club over all developers- that is, except one councilor- Ed Suslovic. (Folks who read last issue’s column may be shocked that I am coming to Ed’s defense. On this issue he is correct.)
As Suslovic pointed out, municipalities need to do planning looking out the front windshield, not the rearview mirror. That is what this bill does - even leaving the side view mirror in place with the 30-day provision.
This resolution was dropped into the Council’s agenda - without warning to the public - with a memo from the Corporation Council that the Maine Municipal Association had sent out urgent notices that this bill had passed through its committee on an 11 to 2 ‘ought to pass’ vote. The two ‘no’ votes were Portland legislator Charles Harlow and Lewiston’s Peggy Rotundo. The mere fact that the MMA is against this should be a red flag that it is a good thing for the people of Maine.


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