In the last eight months, the board of Bend-La Pine Schools has filled three board vacancies. While the selection process varied, in the third case the board didn’t have a substantive discussion in open session where the public could observe.
That lack of openness is worrisome, although it’s important to emphasize that we have no criticism of the selections the board made, nor do we suspect any nefarious purpose.
But the public’s business needs to be done in public, even if it’s difficult to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of candidates with outsiders listening. It’s especially important when board members make a decision that voters would have made if the vacancies occurred under different circumstances.
In May 2011, the board interviewed three candidates in an open meeting to replace resigning member Tom Wilson. Immediately afterward, they discussed those candidates and selected Mike Jensen.
In June 2011, the board interviewed three candidates in an open meeting to replace Kelly Goff, who had recently died. Immediately afterward, they discussed those candidates and then assigned themselves to do reference checks. Two days later they met in open session, shared their findings, and discussed and then selected Julie Craig.
On Jan. 8, the board interviewed two candidates in an open meeting to replace Beth Bagley, who resigned after winning a judgeship. But the public meeting ended with no discussion. It had been scheduled for the hour before the regular school board meeting, and time was short.
The next public discussion came two weeks later, on Tuesday, at the regular school board meeting. Unlike the earlier sessions when every member spoke and conversation went back and forth, this discussion was limited and some board members made no comment at all. After just three comments, a board member spoke about why one candidate’s experience served the board’s needs better at this moment. He made a motion to appoint Andy High, which was unanimously approved. There was no substantive discussion of qualifications, no back and forth.
Chairman Ron Gallinat told us after the meeting that the selection was discussed briefly at a routine meeting that included the superintendent, chairman and one or two other board members. But he said there was no decision worked out in advance and he had not discussed it with the other board members.
Gallinat has shown himself to be a conscientious and careful chairman, and we’re sure there was no intent to cut the public out. Still, there needs to be more consistency in the handling of such issues, to keep the public’s business public.