Our view: Governance, or politics, at root of Board of Education controversy?
It remains to be seen whether Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen will present her monthly expense report to the Board of Education at the upcoming Sept. 10 meeting. And that is largely due to either a lack of follow-through from board members or political posturing in advance of their campaign for re-election this November.
Board of Education members Jack Meeks and Marianne Slade-Troutman have both loudly advocated for more transparency in the Superintendent of Schools budget, since falling short in a 3-2 July vote by the board to require Hermansen to submit monthly reports to board members on her travel expenditures.
The controversy dates back further than July, however, as Slade-Troutman consistently raised her contention with the board’s position on the review of such reports during the June election, when both she and Meeks threw their support behind Hermansen’s opponent, Paul Haas.
“When this board decided to vote on whether or not it was necessary for us to see monthly statements, I voted no because I don’t believe it’s the board’s responsibility to micromanage the county spending,” trustee Bob Altieri said in July. “There was so much money not spent in the travel account that I didn’t think it was necessary to spend any more staff time in going through to present it to the budget committee.”
In his July motion, Meeks requested that Hermansen give “timely reports, in writing of the name, place, dates and issues of the topics and conclusions of every convention, conference, retreat, attended by the superintendent and deputy administrators.” Slade-Troutman stated that it is important for elected officials and superintendents anywhere to be held to this standard, and not just Hermansen.
But after the motion made by Meeks fell by a 3-2 vote, and after Slade-Troutman continued to suggest the board would not be fulfilling its fiduciary oversight role, Altieri shifted his stance and brought the issue back before the board in early August, making a motion to require the superintendent to make the reports available, as Meeks and Slade-Troutman had sought.
This time, though, the motion didn’t move to a vote, as no board members offered a second — even the two board members who had so loudly advocated for it to happen.
Apparently, Altieri’s wasn’t the only shift in position. Although they now had the third vote needed to require the reports from Hermansen, as Altieri indicated he would support his own motion, Meeks and Troutman now say the issue should not require board action — although they had attempted to take that very action and fell one vote short just a month earlier.
“I didn’t think it should have even been on the agenda,” Slade-Troutman said. “It’s a law that we have to obey, and to be voting on whether a law should be obeyed or not, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
The law to which Slade-Troutman refers, as she did in an Aug. 21 “Other Voices” in The Union, is Education Code section 1080, which allows individual county board of supervisors to transfer duties to the county board of education, including — among others — approval of revenue and expenditure estimates by the county superintendent, and the allowance of actual and necessary travel expenses. But nowhere in the section referenced, nor in the corresponding sections 1200-1203 which discusses the kind of expenses to be reimbursed, does the code state each report must be reviewed by actual board members and not staff members such as an office manager.
However, if Meeks and Slade-Troutman do believe that their personal review is necessary to fulfill their fiduciary oversight role, then they should have voted in favor of the motion to ensure it would happen — just as they apparently intended to do one month earlier.
“I was hoping to make it happen, but obviously, as you know, I didn’t get a second,” Altieri said after the August meeting. “I was surprised at that. But I think Holly will probably just do it anyway, there’s no reason not to, it’s been way overplayed.”
Hermansen has consistently stated throughout the “controversy” that she would present the reports as she had in the past, if the board wanted her to do so, and as she did in August despite not being so required by board action.
Whether she will continue to do so remains to be seen, but both Meeks and Slade-Troutman had the ability to require Hermansen to meet their demands in what they had said was a necessity for them to fulfill their roles as board members — and decided not to take such action, which could have ended the controversy once and for all.
We hope that this controversy wasn’t kicked down the road in order to be used as a political football for election day, for which Altieri, Meeks and Slade-Troutman have all filed for re-election.
For without any indication of impropriety or indiscretion in the superintendent’s expense reports, and without the board members who sought to scour the reports taking action to actually do so, such complaints over the controversy would ring hollow and appear to be based more in political posturing than an actual commitment to the good governance they’ve been elected to provide.
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