Board blow-up over smearBy Heather Murtagh
A reference made about a comment naming an involved parent and linking her to a derogatory name during a San Bruno Park Elementary School District Board of Trustees meeting is raising the question - what is appropriate behavior for an elected official during official business?
At the second of two special Saturday meetings held to review board etiquette and open meeting laws on April 14, Trustee Skip Henderson brought up a disparaging comment he alleges Trustee Jim Prescott made about Jennifer Blanco - a parent who is actively involved in the district and attempted to join the school board three times. The meetings were called after the board was investigated for two separate incidents spawning investigations into violations of the Brown Act - California's opening meeting law.
Henderson claims the comment was made because of his disappointment in Prescott, adding he needed to get it off his chest. Fellow trustees see the situation as a personal problem between Henderson and Prescott - not an appropriate conversation during a public meeting.
"What was said at the meeting was the result of a conversation that I had with Jim Prescott. Jim Prescott and I were the only parties to that conversation. I expressed concern to the board in relation to the matter that we were supposed to be sitting there and getting things off my chest. That's why I said what I said. What ... I repeated it at the board meeting was what he told me and it upset me very, very deeply. There was no intention to disparage him or create any animosity or anything. We were just getting things off our chest. That's why I brought it up," said Henderson.
A he said-he said situation ensued afterward about the validity of the Henderson's claim. Prescott, however, could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.
Blanco will never know the truth, but she said it doesn't matter.
"I don't think name calling is a job of a board member. People are going to think what they want. They really need to learn how to get along and work well together. They're failing at that, failing at representing the community they represent. They just need to stay focused and do what they need to do," said Blanco, who added if the name calling was relevant, it'd be on the agenda.
Blanco isn't the only one who thinks the setting wasn't right.
There was a feeling at the beginning of the meeting to get down to the nitty-gritty about the root of conflicts, said Trustee Chris Kiely.
After Prescott and Henderson exchanged words, the board was faced with two men calling each other a liar, he said.
"It really doesn't matter who's right or wrong as long as you try to make good, reasonable decisions," Kiely said.
Kiely wants to focus on creating and sticking with protocols so the community trusts the process and board.
Trustee Russ Hanley believes the disagreement is a personal one between the men. He's optimistic the event will lead to new protocol on how a meeting should be run such as listening to one another before answering.
"The big thing is courtesy, working with each other and respect," he said.
The newest trustee, Kevin Martinez, said what's important now is to move on. Interestingly, the alleged comment was made after the meeting when Martinez was appointed. That same meeting generated the first Brown Act investigation which found the board violated the law by not allowing public comments prior to an appointment being made.
"It's really impossible to know who's right and to what degree. It's more important to view the comments as some way cathartic," he said.
Both Martinez and Hanley noted creating protocol was supposed to be part of the meeting. Since it never happened, a third special meeting will most likely be needed.
Copyright ©2007 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 04/27/2007.