Thursday, January 3, 2013

Open or closed: Does it matter?

Soon after I wrote about Superintendent Heath Morrison's decision to keep the meetings of 22 CMS advisory task forces private,  I got a voice mail from retired Col. Thomas P. Graham of Spindale.

"Sometimes,  as a matter of common sense,  meetings should be closed to the public,"  he said.  He added that when I wrote about the meetings being open or closed to the public,  I clearly meant "as a code word  'to reporters.'  "

I understand what the colonel is getting at.  Public attendance at meetings of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools advisory panels and committees is almost always sparse.  Sometimes a reporter or two are the only folks in the audience.  I think we reporters would contend we're there as surrogates for other members of the public, though.  If there's no interest in what the panel is doing,  journalists earn no brownie points for warming a seat.

In this specific case,  Graham is wrong about my  "coded"  message.  I don't want to cover meetings of 22 panels,  even if they're publicized and open,  as two UNC Chapel Hill School of Government professors say the law requires.  The amount of time that would require is mind-boggling.  Covering even a healthy sampling would seriously cut into other projects I'm working on.

What I would like to do is make sure the rest of you know how to attend.

Most of you wouldn't want to.  A few would.  Those few might include people who asked to be appointed but didn't get a spot.  They'd almost surely include people who are passionate  -- some might say obsessed -- with the topics, which include special ed,  gifted students,  African American males,  teacher compensation,  technology and public trust  (read more about the task forces here).

You might find a few devoted CMS boosters in the audience,  and you might find the district's harshest critics.  People who are concerned that Morrison won't listen to the right people,  or that he's setting up the task forces to rubber-stamp what he already plans to do,  might sit in and decide for themselves.

Open meetings don't mean that non-members get to jump in and disrupt discussions.  They do mean any discussion or remark can be reported,  sent online and commented on almost instantaneously.  I understand that might be intimidating to volunteers undertaking a challenging task.  Presumably,  that's what Morrison was thinking of when he said he and the task force leaders agreed the work will be more effective in private.

Morrison also says he'll have CMS staff taking notes and posting summaries.  There will be town hall meetings that allow anyone to meet with task force members,  and opinion surveys for people to weigh in on specific issues.

That's certainly tidier.  But is it democracy?

Morrison has noted  (correctly)  that any report filtered through a journalist is not the whole story.  That's equally true of observations reported by members of the public -- and CMS employees.  The more voices and perspectives,  the fuller the story and the greater the chance that distortions from any source will be challenged.


Anonymous said...

All summaries are from the perspective of the hearer. I don't mean listener, I meant hearer. Each person listens for what they want to hear and then reports on what they hear that is the closest to that.

The truth is in the compilation of all accounts.

So we need the reporter's version and the teacher's version and the parent's version.... so that we get the whole picture as a composite.

Anonymous said...

If he keeps the meetings private then the Trust will not be expanded. It will be erroded.

csawyer said...

Open meeting are essential.

Anonymous said...

If you stack the groups with influenced outsiders (see your roster) and close the meetings what gets accomplished? NOTHING ! You basically have involved influenced folks from every minority group in the county along with a Chamber Maid. Its the worst batch of over cooked rice I have ever tasted. Heath does not know these folks they were fed to him in his short time. I say vet the whole group then you would have a much smaller task force grouping. Make it a requirement that they have a child in the CMS system today.

Christine Mast said...

I attended the Town Hall Meeting held at Hopewell HS back in October. I asked Dr. Morrison a question about the IB programs at Blythe Elementary, Alexander Middle and North Meck HS. Another audience member asked a question about the boundary changes recently made for North Meck HS.

Then when we broke off into small groups, Earnest Winston, Dr. Morrison's Chief of Staff, was our small group moderator. With discussions amongst the handful of people in our room, Mr. Winston filled up three white boards full of our notes, suggestions and questions.

When the minutes from that meeting were published on the CMS site, it didn't detail either of the above mentioned questions from the audience, nor did the minutes detail ANY of what was discussed in our small group.

I sent an email to Mr. Winston, asking him why so many details were missing from the minutes. Here was his reply:

Good morning Ms. Mast,

I hope this message finds you doing well. Thank you again for attending the town hall meeting at Hopewell High and following up regarding the notes that were published on the CMS website.

When staff compiles the notes from the town hall meetings, we typically try to avoid using the names of specific schools. We also aim to focus on common themes identified during the meeting. It's also worth noting that information not included in the online summaries is still considered and reviewed by staff. Let me know if you have additional questions/concerns.

Warm Regards,

So do I think these committees should be closed to the public? Absolutely not.

How is closing these meetings restoring the public's trust in CMS? How is bringing back so many people from CMS' past going to be helpful? If these people weren't successful in "fixing CMS" before, why would they be successful now?

In my humble opinion, we need "fresh faces" to attempt to make positive changes.

And since it has already been demonstrated that accurate meeting minutes are not being published, why would anyone expect anything different for these 22 committees?

Finally, two extremely important issues that were omitted from the minutes were as follows:

(1) Are you using the School Improvement Plans (SIP) for all 159 schools, as a starting point for the Annual Budget?

(2) We should be running the district from the bottom-up (starting with the school level), instead of dictating from the top administration-down.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Christine, I was just wondering where you'd been! Meanwhile ... Wiley disappears and Shamash starts extended postings. Shamash, are you Wiley in a new alias? Gotta keep up with the regulars :-)

Anonymous said...

The Observer implements a pay to read plan.

The designated Observer education reporter doesn't have time to cover these meetings due to "other projects I'm working on".

So twice, the public is screwed; information we receive from CMS will be topline fluff and we will get little, if any information from the Observer reporter.

Even then we won't be able to read it if we've used up our 15 stories per month ration.

This waste of time, energy and money having 22 panels is typical of public education, but by golly they'll have a warm-fuzzy and an orgasm or two while doing them.

Jeff Wise said...

Ann, you're right on that not many people will attend or will be able to attend many of these committee meetings.

By stating that the meetings will be closed, CMS opened itself to bad PR. If they had said nothing at all about the openness of the meetings there wouldn't be a story here.

The bigger issue though is the bureaucracy this creates. All these committees will be creating data points. Lots and lots of data points, but to what end?

Christine effectively points out the frustration of not even knowing if the right data is being considered from 1 meeting. Multiply that by 22 committees and X number of meetings each...

My presumption is once all the work of the committees is done, whatever documentation and final reports they generate will ultimately be accessible by the public - right?


Shamash said...


No I am not Wiley, though I do tend to agree quite a bit with what I've seen of his postings.

I've been posting for a while here, though.

Lyndall said...

I posted this in response to your article dated Dec 21 quoting to UNC experts stating closed meetings violate state law. I'd be interested in your response to my questions:

It appears there are a couple of glaring contradictions regarding the 22 task forces, leaving me with a couple of questions:

1) If board members will be reviewing the list of task force members at their January meeting then isn't the board "empowering or authorizing them to carry out any public duties?"

2) According to information on the CMS Task Force web link, Morrison states that the work of the task forces "...will also lay the foundation for the 2018 CMS Strategic Plan which will launch in August 2013..." Would these task force members then be “authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function?”

If the answer to both of these questions is "yes" then it seems clear the meetings cannot be considered exempt from the state's open meetings law. Yes?

Anonymous said...

How will the gifted education task-force led by former school board chairwoman, Molly Griffin, be addressing the "Gifted Gap"? Does the "Gifted Gap" matter?

(See blog post from yesterday)

Alicia Durand

Anonymous said...



Christine Mast said...

In my humble opinion, to answer Jeff Wise, "yes, of course."

In my humble opinion, to answer Lyndall, "yes, of course."

But will either of these issues change what CMS ultimately does? Doubtful.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Lyndall, it certainly seems to me that these task forces will be advising the school board, even if the board didn't vote to create them.

Jeff, I am almost certain you are correct in believing the end products of all task forces will be public. And it's not as if CMS put out a press release saying "Meetings are closed." I asked and they answered. And yes, I agree that the volume of data that staff will be asked to produce and volunteers will be asked to digest is epic.

Anonymous said...

The only thing "EPIC" is this whole dog and pony show is the "EPIC" waste of time and taxpayer money.

Suburb schools will still have 40 in the class with $4,000 per pupil spending and the Westside schools will have 18 per class with $12 per pupil spending.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!

Anonymous said...



Missouri said...

Ann, the best thing that could happen is that a group of more reasonable folks focused on education would come together, scatter through these meetings to get some context and then come back together and create their own report.

I will begin approaching people in the audience at the next school board meeting.

Missouri said...

Ann, will you at least be able to be sure all the task force meetings places and times are published somewhere?

Anonymous said...

I would think that some of these task force members will, at some point, want to use their service to bolster a resume or to seek public office.

Keeping the meetings open lessens the chance of someone lying about their accomplishments or demeanor during the meetings.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Missouri, at this point no, I will not be able to do that. That's kind of the whole thing of keeping the meetings private; CMS doesn't have to tell the public when and where (and does not plan to do so). I assume the "closed meeting" decision will stand unless they're challenged in court or face public pressure.

Anonymous said...

Ann , Since the meetings are closed to public you will know nothing about what has been discussed. Thus , you will not be able to monitor progress nor would any CMS official. Classic CMS move and it will actually create a higher lack of TRUST. Keith W. Hurley

Shamash said...

No surprises here.

Didn't CMS say they needed to "control" their press?

Nothing works like a closed door to do that.

I want to have open meetings when the Glenn Singleton puppet show has those "courageous conversations" with teachers.

Anonymous said...

Really much ado about nothing. Pay lip service to the community at large, rubber stamp Broad directives, hire Broad affiliated vendor, pad resume, get vested, leave.
Petey I

Really much ado about nothing. Pay lip service to the community at large, rubber stamp Broad directives, hire Broad affiliated vendor, pad resume, get vested, leave.
Petey II

Anonymous said...

10:16. Right on the money. There won't be any change.