Next up in the local online engagement department: a project with the Northfield Public Schools

Chris Richardson, Griff Wigley, Matt HillmannYesterday morning, I put on my Wigley and Associates consultant hat and had a meeting at the Northfield Public Schools District office with Superintendent Chris Richardson and Matt Hillmann, Director of Human Resources and Technology.

I told them to get their hair done for the meeting and that we’d also be practicing to use our index fingers for tablet use.  As you can see from the photo, my coaching was more than marginally effective.

Northfield Public SchoolsSo they hired me to help add an online engagement component to the public meetings planned this month for the proposed ‘modified balanced calendar.’   And like the development of a downtown parking management plan for the City of Northfield, this project with the District won’t happen here on LoGro. As soon as we have the blog site for it set up, I will announce it here.

And like I blogged back in December about my contract with the City of Northfield, this contract will change the nature of my blogging here on LoGro about the School District, i.e., my relationships with the District’s leaders take priority over my public opinionating about them or the District.  And I now have a conflict of interest when it comes to opinionating on District-related matters.

If I blog about anything related to the District or its leaders, the tone of my blog post will be along the lines of “Here’s something interesting. What do y’all think?” Essentially, my role will be more of a moderator. The opinionating (praise or criticism) will have to come from all of you.

27 comments to  (Including 5 Discussion Threads) Next up in the local online engagement department: a project with the Northfield Public Schools

  • 1

    [...] have you may have seen Griff Wigley’s post on LocallyGrown about a project he’s working on with the school district to create and maintain “online [...]

  • 2
    Kathie Galotti says:

    I am happy for you Griff. But it does seem as though one side effect is to suppress discussion of these issues on Locally Grown--an independent blog not controlled by the district. For that, I’m very sad.

  • 3
    kiffi summa says:

    But Kathie… Griff has said by doing these projects with the City and the School,District, it will only affect how he participates in LG… so then it is up to the parents who wish to discuss the actions of the school district/board to continue with a meaningful conversation.

    But here’s the problem as I see it, in general… look at the number of people that participate in discussion here; it’s known that many more read than comment.
    How representative of the entire community are these discussions, or those that will occur in these two projects?

    When most people prefer not to speak publicly, how relevant … or how much ‘weight’ is carried… by the comments that are made?

    My answer to that is always: Well, at least you have some public comment, and how can those who will not speak publicly mean to have their opinions put into the mix … but that is certainly not accepted as a valid reaction ‘across the board’, as there have been negative remarks about those who do comment here.

    A dilemma … how to correct?

  • 4
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Kiffi--

    I actually sent Griff a copy of a letter I sent to board members--he wanted to wait to post it on the new blog. I got the NNews to run it as a commentary instead--my goal being to provoke discussion on these important issues. The meetings come up this week, and waiting would preclude some discussion. That’s what I’m sorry about.

    I want to refer interested folks to a facebook page (started by folks I’ve never met), where there is a place
    for folks to comment and ask questions.

    http://www.facebook.com/SayNoToTheProposedNorthfieldSchoolCalendar?fref=ts

    The school district is (once again) trying to ram things down our throats--and time is pressing, so if you care about the calendar issue, now’s the time to speak up.

  • 5
    kiffi summa says:

    good commentary, Kathie…
    Now the ‘trick’ will be to get real, as opposed to jargon , answers to your specific questions.

    This is your chance, parents remember that if you do not satisfy your concerns up-front, because you’re worried that it will look like criticism … then you’ll be complaining afterwards and it will be criticism.

    Don’t be hesitant to provide your voice, along with your tax dollars.

  • 6
    Griff Wigley says:

    I attended the School Board meeting tonight and they voted to stop the process for a ‘balanced calendar’ for 2013-14. So no public meetings this week/next.

    The resolution also included a statement saying they want to continue a community conversation in the months ahead for an in-depth examination of the issue, with a possible decision on it sometime during the next school year.

    • 6.1
      Kathie Galotti says:

      Griff--I genuinely hope the desire for a community conversation is real, and not just a pr move to help the Superintendent save face. But I don’t know if I believe it.

      We should never have gotten to this point--a major change proposed with only about 2 weeks between announcement of dates and school board final vote. That process--or the lack thereof--is a giant slap in the face to parents and families.

      Moreover, now that we’ve got the time, we should start by engaging all stakeholders in a general discussion of what they want in a calendar and why. We should NOT restrict ourselves to a discussion of only the Supe’s proposal.

      And, in general, the school district has got to stop with this mode of ‘decision by ambush.” That seems to be a hallmark of the Richardson administration.

    • 6.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kathie, I’m still working on this so that’s a good sign. More to come, just as soon as I can!

  • 7
    Norman Butler says:

    I’m a bit puzzled here. What are you contemplating?

  • 8
    Rob Hardy says:

    I saw you at the School Board meeting last night, Mr. Wigley. What’s up with this online engagement project?

    I would like to make two observations: (1) The superintendent informed the Board about this project in an email after your services had already been engaged. This is not a Board-initiated project. (2) Due to the narrow construction of the Open Meeting Law, under which the participation of Board members in an online forum might technically rise to the level of a “serial meeting,” it’s likely that Board members would be unable to participate in any “online engagement project,” which in turn would make any such project of limited utility as a means of interacting with Board members.

    I would like to see changes in (or legal clarification of) the Open Meeting Law to accommodate online community engagement with elected officials. But I was told by the Minnesota School Boards Association that even blogging, as an elected official, was “a bad idea.” Do you have any thoughts, Griff, either on (a) how this online engagement project can include Board members, or (b) how it can be a successful and inclusive effort at engagement when the Open Meeting Law precludes participation by Board members?

    • 8.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Hey Rob, yeah, two School Board meetings in a row for me. Something’s gotta be up!

      Since the calendar project is delayed, I’ve been retained by the administration to help get more public engagement on the Transformational Technology proposal. I should have the blog site ready in a day or so.

      As for the Open Meeting Law, the timing is perfect. I’ve been giving presentations for the League of MN Cities (LMC) this month (two down, one to go) on the use of blogs and social media for local officials. I cover this issue a bit in my sessions, but as you can see from David Ludescher’s comment below, there’s a difference of opinion about it. (David and Mayor Dana Graham attended the LMC sessions for newly elected officials in Mankato last week, whereas Councilor Rhonda Pownell, Dundas City Administrator John McCarthy, and Morristown Mayor/City of Northfield Network Technician Kurt Wolf attended my session.)

      Yesterday, I noticed that there’s an upcoming LMC webinar titled Shedding Light on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law so I asked to be introduced to the presenter, Susan Naughton, LMC Staff Attorney so I could talk to her about what she plans to present. I got the email introduction late in the day and I hope to have a follow-up comment or blog post here in a few days.

  • 9
    kiffi summa says:

    I think the opinion that blogging by an elected official is a “bad idea” is a specious position to take.

    Besey Buckheit ran a blog for years, when she was an elected official; Betsey is an attorney, and I would trust her judgement implicitly on this issue.

    I understand not wanting to start out in an elected position as the ‘maverick’, but I think there is also a thirst for some fresh positioning on the School Board, as well as a desire for that fresh viewpoint on the City Council.

    How can it be a violation of the OML, if the person who is hosting the blog speaks only with commenters, and there is not a conversation among the Board members?

    • 9.1
      David Ludescher says:

      Kiffi,

      The reason “the attorneys” recommend that elected officials not have a blog or comment on blogs is to avoid any possibility of a violation of the law. “Risk management” is the term I heard at a League of Minnesota Cities conference.

      Because a public official can be personally punished and because even innocent violations can be punished, any blogging carries the risk of a possible violation. It is possible to violate the open meeting law by posting something that all of the school board members read.

      • 9.1.1
        David Henson says:

        The open meetings law is just another attempt to undermine democracy. The people choose their “elected leaders” and lawyers, activists and bureaucrats attempt to intimidate those elected leaders by threatening all kinds of actions so they can control the game. Elected leaders need to understand they hold all the power and do what they feel is in the best interests of their constituents and not be cowed by those who have no “I was elected” status. Meet and blog when and wherever you choose.

    • 9.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      David, I’ll be interested to get the LMC attorney’s opinion about what you’re reporting:

      It is possible to violate the open meeting law by posting something that all of the school board members read.

      That makes no sense to me. Reading a blog post is no different than reading a letter to the editor in the print edition of the newspaper.

      I think the main confusion is around the comment/discussion threads attached to a blog post. People assume that a blog always means comment threads are enabled. Not true. Ray Cox had a legislative blog for years and never allowed comments.

      My first contention is that a blog discussion/comment thread can informally accommodate comments by less than a quorum of an elected body, in the same way that 2 or 3 Northfield City councilors can chit chat in the hallway after a council meeting or at a coffeehouse. If a 4th councilor approaches, it’s a no-no. The problem in a blog discussion thread, of course, is that unless it’s carefully moderated, one never knows when that 4th councilor might chime in. I can understand why elected officials are advised to avoid those.

      So the best way to handle this, IMHO, is to announce a specific blog discussion thread as a formal meeting, starting on X day and ending Y days later. Likewise for a one-hour webinar or real-time online chat. Then it wouldn’t matter how many councilors chime in.

      I’ll let you know what I find out.

      • 9.2.1
        David Ludescher says:

        Griff,

        It is odd. For example, I am not supposed to send e-mails, even informational e-mails, to the rest of the council.

      • 9.2.2
        David Henson says:

        David L, how can your free speech rights be amended because you are elected? That makes no sense what-so-ever?

      • 9.2.3
        David Ludescher says:

        David:

        I know it violates free speech, but I don’t have the time, energy, or will to challenge it.

      • 9.2.4
        Rob Hardy says:

        Davids: I found an interesting case in Texas, where the state’s Open Meeting Law was challenged on First Amendment grounds. The public officials who brought the case, arguing that the Open Meeting Law conflicted with their First Amendment rights, were unsuccessful in Federal appeals court. Read about it here.

      • 9.2.5
        kiffi summa says:

        I read it, and it was rather confusing for this reason: the court is saying the Open Meeting Law/Act is necessary for the public’s business to be done in the ‘sunshine’, and I agree with that.

        The public officials’ case was based on the fact that the charges for violating it, even unknowingly, were criminal. That’s harder to agree with because it seems like the circumstances of each ‘violation’ might be different, and not rise to the level of ‘criminal’ behavior.
        They are’t limited in their free speech by talking about the public business; they are just directed to talk about it in public, rather than in private groups without public access to the discussion.

        ***An interesting evasion of the OML is the use of three person committees to discuss an issue that is for some reason something they (the larger board/council/unit) don’t want to discuss in public, and after being discussed in committee, the recommendation/solution is brought to the full decision making unit for a vote.
        Since so much of the ‘Law’ is determined by intent, that committee process, is in my mind, an intentional evasion.

      • 9.2.6
        David Henson says:

        I voted for David L as a citizen representative to the city council. Not all of us Northfield citizens can get together to decide laws as a huge group so we select individuals to represent us. I see no point in limiting where these representatives discuss government and all manner of issues. In fact it seems completely logical that at times these discussions would be more fruitful in private. I can understand to ask for the voting to be public. These representatives are surrogates for us so limiting their rights limits our rights. The idea that they can have “free speech” just in public implies an understanding that that speech will be different in public and thus limited or “not free.”

  • 10
    kiffi summa says:

    Re David L’s 9.1: First of all, checking back in Rob Hardy’s blog , I see that on 1.19 he got an opinion from the school district attorney that he could blog, but it couldn’t become a discussion between the school board members. That makes sense.
    SO… go for it, Rob.

    As to the LoMC, they are an advocacy organization, with dues paid to them by the cities who belong. They are going to be ‘wary’, may I say excessively ‘wary’, on behalf of their clients, to the point of restricting info that might be beneficial to the citizens that their clients serve.

  • 11
    David Henson says:

    Here link to info on open meetings law http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/openmeetlaw.html

    The law is very weak in structure, clarity and penalties. I personally cannot see how the law does not violate the elected officials rights to free speech, free assembly, etc etc. The degree to which the document continually refers to what the supreme court “states” would also seem to cast a separation of powers problem over the whole law.

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