The superintendent in one northern Indiana community had prepared the board information meeting packets for review and had heard nothing in the interim, no questions, no comments and no indication of dissension. However, board meetings had been anything but uneventful since the last election. A training-session statement had been realized: Every board is one election away from dysfunction! The introduction of one new board member had changed everything.
Michael T. Adamson
The board meeting started well. Agenda items proceeded without disruption. Then it came time for the superintendent’s recommendation for a visible administrative staff position. Supporting background information was shared with the public. Following the superintendent’s comments, a board member moved to accept the recommendation. Then came time to speak to the motion, and that is when the meeting turned south.
A voice was heard at the board table, and an ominous hush followed the words, “Mr. President, I have a few comments and questions.” The board president acknowledged the new member, who questioned every element of the recommendation and even challenged the character of the person being recommended for the position, berating the superintendent for the recommendation. He further claimed he had performed his own investigation and determined that another person would be better suited for the position, someone he was prepared to offer in place of the superintendent’s recommendation.
The superintendent fumed, while the other board members sat embarrassed by their colleague’s comments. The news reporters’ pens were flying in a frenzy of delight and the audience snickered nervously. One patron leaned over and whispered to another, “Best show in town!”
The attack had been quick and pointed, and the element of surprise had been effective. The rogue had struck again.
A Rogue’s Tactics
Rogues are those members who frequently operate beyond any legal authority, using implied authority to bully and intimidate the school administration, staff and public. It is not uncommon for rogues to push a personal agenda that is sympathetic to special-interest groups with whom they may have ties officially or unofficially within the community or school corporation.
The rogue is a member who often refuses to support majority decisions of the board and who works both openly and subversively to disrupt and undermine board authority when it conflicts with his or her own interests or preferences.
Rogues may be a micromanagers, interfering in the day-to-day operations of the school corporation, but not necessarily. In spite of often overinflated opinions of their abilities and contributions to school governance, rogues may be convincing and, while they truly have no allies, they are not above seeking temporary allegiances that will further personal agendas.
As the definition implies, the rogue member does not subscribe to a code of ethics, favoring whatever actions further the cause at hand. Rules are made to be broken, especially when they hedge the rogue’s agenda.
Most states do not have a recall provision for elected school board member positions. Consequently, once the new member is seated, nothing legally can be done to remove that member from office unless he or she violates an element of the oath of office sufficiently to persuade a court to remove the member from office. Otherwise, unless the rogue moves away from the district, commits a felony or dies, the board is stuck with him or her.
However, a passive approach seldom improves the circumstances. Appealing to rogue members rarely leads them to change their ways, and rogues will use the board’s reluctance to stand up to their antics to their advantage.
Containment may be the best solution. Containment means redefining the rogue’s circle of influence. Strictly adhering to the board operating practices and procedures, outlined in an adopted board compact will curtail the rogue’s ability for grandstanding. However, understand that containment does not mean ignoring the rogue. Even the most cantankerous board member exhibits moments of brilliance. Do not deny good ideas or input because of who it comes from. The goal of containment is behavior modification.
Many boards look to their executives for guidance in this area. However, this issue is not appropriately within the superintendent’s role to oversee or correct. If a member of the board interferes with an administrator’s ability to execute his or her responsibilities, the administrator must have the liberty to report the disruptive behavior to the board with complete confidence that the issue will be addressed promptly and efficiently.
The most important thing for the administration to remember is that a rogue member is a board problem, not an administrative one. The fact the rogue causes problems for the administration is the impetus for the board to take action to set their own house in order.
Michael Adamson is director of board services for the Indiana School Boards Association in Indianapolis, Ind. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org