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January 07. 2014 8:40PM

Manchester school board adopts rules changes to improve decorum and efficiency

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee has adopted major rule changes aimed at increasing its efficiency while reducing the ability of individual members to dominate meetings.

The changes were approved on Tuesday at the board’s organizational meeting, the first of the new session. Normally at the organizational meetings, held by the aldermen and the school board after the inaugural ceremony, the members simply elect board chairmen and receive their committee assignments. They can also adopt changes to the boards’ rules of order, but typically only minor changes are proposed, if any.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen met briefly, reelecting Alderman At-Large Dan O’Neil chairman unanimously with one abstention.

The school board meeting, however, lasted two hours, with debate centering on the rule changes. The board first elected a new vice chairman, Dave Wihby, the at-large representative. He beat the only other board member nominated, Ward 2’s Debra Gagnon Langton, 13-2.

The new rules, which were drafted by Wihby in consultation with other board members, are based largely on the procedural rules followed by the aldermen.

The debate over the rules was fueled by objections from Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry, who proposed nearly a dozen revisions to the document, all but one of which were rejected by large margins.

Beaudry’s primary concern was that the new rules would give the mayor and the vice chairman too much authority.

“This gives a lot of power to one or two individuals on the board and, again, under our rules no single individual is supposed to have any more power than any other board member,” he said.

The new rules state in part: “No member shall be interrupted by another, but by rising to call to order, or to correct a mistake. At all times the Board shall act with respect and professionalism when in non-public session. The presiding officer shall preserve decorum and order.”

Wihby maintained that the rules did not represent a significant shift from the rules that were already in place for the board but were scarcely or unevenly enforced.

“This is asking that this board act more professional in how we deal with each other in the future,” Wihby said.

The new rules also give the school board a great deal of flexibility in how it conducts its business, allowing members to suspend their own rules with a simple majority vote. The aldermen, by contrast, can only suspend the rules with a two-thirds vote.

The board rejected a motion from Beaudry to apply the two-thirds requirement for suspending the rules.

Beaudry also objected to a provision of the rules stating that in “public session ... the Board shall not hear personal complaints of school personnel or complaints against any person connected with the District.”

Beaudry said the rule could bar criticism of the mayor or any school board member. “To say we’re going to gag the public about what they can and can’t say is unacceptable,” he said.

The board voted to keep the section.

After approving the new rules, the board was issued the committee assignments made by Mayor Ted Gatsas.

The assignments were another apparent blow for Beaudry. He was removed from the two most powerful committees, Curriculum and Instruction and Coordination, and he received no committee chairmanships. 8tsiefer@unionleader.com


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