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Board of Education Elects Silberfein for a Second Year as President and Reviews Protocols for Public Comment

Scott E. SilberfeinPutting aside concerns expressed in a letter from the League of Women Voters about a potential conflict of interest, the Board of Education unanimously re-elected Scott Silberfein to serve as School Board President for another term while his wife, Joey Silberfein, serves as President of the district’s Parent Teacher Council.

The League’s letter reads as follows:
The League Board encourages local volunteerism and appreciates the fact that Board of Education members often have a history of active involvement in community-based organizations before they are elected to office.

As the Board of Education is currently in the process of determining its leadership for the 2019-20 year, the League Board would like to draw attention to the potential conflict of interest regarding Board of Education leadership and incoming PT Council leadership.

As the League studies and comments on conflict of interest issues in various aspects of local government, including the CNC and SBNC elections systems, as well as the process of the Village Board, the League Board encourages the Board of Education to publicly disclose any potential, real or perceived conflict, including this one. The League Board further encourages the Board of Education to self-regulate appropriately and adhere to the practice of discretionary recusal in the face of potential, real, or perceived conflicts of interest that stem from the activities of spouses and immediate family members who engage in local advocacy and have volunteer leadership roles in local organizations, boards, and councils. The League Board hopes that there is transparency and an awareness of this potential conflict, on the part of the Board of Education, as it goes through its process in the 2019-20 year.

In a discussion of the letter prior to the vote, Silberfein said that the Board received the League’s email and “wanted to make sure it was disclosed.” However, he said that he would “exercise recusal” if the PTC was giving a gift to the district and said that the district’s counsel had said there was no conflict of interest. He narrowed consideration of potential conflicts of interest to gift giving, failing to anticipate other issues in which the PTC’s views might be at odds with those of the Board.

By exercising recusal, both Mr. and Mrs. Silberfein could be put in a position where they cannot fully represent their constituencies or may compromise to avoid conflict.

The Board agreed with Silberfein and thanked both Scott and Joey for their service. Alison Singer said, “I think it is commendable that two members of the Silberfein family are willing to take on such big responsibilities within the district.” Chris Morin said, “I can’t think of any conflicts of interest. It is not an issue.” Carl Finger, “It was not a concern of mine. We are lucky to have people to serve.”

Following the discussion Silberfein was elected to serve as President and Pam Fuehrer as Vice President. It is anticipated that Silberfein will resign after six months and Fuehrer will assume the presidency.

Public Comments and Letters to the Board

The Board reviewed their policies regarding public comments and emails to the Board to decide if any changes to policies should be made. Last year they got rid of the time limits for comments at meetings and the consensus was that this was a change for the good and should be maintained.

Silberfein raised the question of including the entire text of the letters and emails sent to the Board in the agenda packet, instead of the brief summaries that are now provided.

Alison Singer suggested that the reading of the written comments should be moved forward in the agenda – and follow public comments so that Board members could hear the public’s views before they vote.

Ultimately the Board decided to be sensitive to people’s comments when planning the agenda so that comments could be read and public comments given before the board votes.

Discussion then turned to the publication of emails and letters to the Board in the agenda. Chris Morin spoke in favor of including the entire letters to the Board and responses in the agenda as done by the Village. Carl Finger asked, “Why should the letter not be included in the agenda? What is the hesitation?”

Alison Singer said, “Our goal is to elevate public comment. When people come to speak, they are televised. The parallel is that these letters should be published.”

Scott Silberfein raised the possibility of an “opt in” to permit their publication while Dr. Hagerman said, “There are confidentiality issues with letters about personnel matters. We would not print letters that should be redacted.”

Pam Fuehrer said, “Sometimes people want to vent or express their feelings to the Board – not necessarily publish these communications. Sometimes they want to let us know how they feel. I think Honoree’s (district clerk) summary puts in the content without using names. I am against full text. It would make it difficult for the person on the Board who responds.”

Ron Schulhof said, “I disagree that Honorees summaries are sufficient. They don’t explain why, or give all the reasons.” Karen Ceske said, “I have seen all sides – but I share Pam’s hesitancy. On the other hand, sitting in the audience, sometimes I have wondered what the comments were.”

Scott ended the discussion, saying, “We’ll talk to the lawyers and find out about the ramifications for having an opt in and printing the letter.”

Silberfein also raised the possibility of including the FOIL requests in the agenda so that people are aware of the types of FOILS the Board is receiving. Chris Morin said, “A decent number of the FOILS we get are burdensome – and not constructive, so I am not sure what we’re getting by this.” Alison Singer added, “We want to publish the comments to inform our deliberations, while the FOIL requests do not serve this purpose.” Carl Finger suggested that the Board provide quarterly updates on FOILS and on what it took to fulfill them.

The Board decided that for now, FOIL requests would not be included.

Watch the meeting here:

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