The members of the Nutmeg Board of Education are tired of having to put up with the constant barrage of criticism. Cut teaching positions? The parents go crazy. Add teaching positions? The taxpayer group goes crazy. To make matters worse, even talking about different options brings the critics out of the woodwork, who then seek to pit Board member against Board member.
As Chair of the Finance Committee, veteran Board member Bob Bombast reached out to his Board colleagues by email: “We need to do something. If we can work together confidentially in the first instance, we can get our act together and present a united front publicly after we make the tough decisions.” Several Board members concurred by email, and they went back and forth as to how, also by email.
Reading the emails, Mr. Superintendent saw that the Board members were conducting a discussion of Board business by email, a violation of the Freedom of Information against which he had already warned them verbally. The next morning, he called up Mr. Board Attorney and asked for his help. Mr. Board Attorney understood precisely what was needed, and in short order he wrote an email to the Board members warning them against conducting discussions of Board business by email. Significantly, he captioned his email “CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY CLIENT COMMUNICATION,” so that the Board members would know that Mr. Board Attorney was giving them confidential legal advice.
Initially, Bob Bombast was annoyed at being chastised again, wondering whether Mr. Board Attorney didn’t have anything better to do. But then Bob had a Eureka moment. Since emails to and from the Board lawyer are confidential, he figured, sending emails through Mr. Board Attorney would be a great way to take care of Board business discretely and confidentially.
He promptly wrote back to Mr. Board Attorney, thanking him for his wise counsel, and he also expressed appreciation for the fact that the Board can now discuss controversial matters with Board counsel confidentially, whether by email or in person.
Bob and the Board then continued their email discussions of Board business, but now they carefully assured that Mr. Board Attorney was copied on all the emails going back and forth. Indeed, the Board members included some pretty extraordinary statements in their emails, seemingly secure in their belief that that the public would never see their emails as long as Mr. Board Attorney was included on the email.
With the budget pressures this spring, the Board is considering some drastic cuts, including possibly closing a school. Given the significance of these issues, Bob decided that an in-person private discussion is needed. Accordingly, he has called an executive session of the Finance Committee, invited Mr. Board Attorney to attend the meeting, and posted it as “Discussion of Confidential Attorney-Client Communications.”
Can the Committee go ahead with the budget discussion in executive session? Continue Reading