Motion to record SDPC leadership meetings fails

COUNTY — In what could be seen as a slightly Orwellian turn of events, School District of Pickens County board trustee Jimmy Gillespie made a motion during the board’s May 29 meeting to have district leadership meetings recorded.
According to school district communications director Julie Thompson, district leadership meetings are typically convened on the Wednesday following regularly scheduled school board meetings for the express purpose of allowing the superintendent to disseminate information to key leaders and principals throughout the district.
The meetings are an opportunity for the superintendent and assistant superintendent(s) to pass along key information about votes and decisions made at the board meetings — for instance matters associated with the general fund budget or policy changes.
Trustee Jim Shelton expressed concern that if any personnel matters were discussed during district leadership meetings and those meetings were recorded and made available to the public, it would violate ethical standards concerning the maintenance of privacy with regard to personnel matters.
SDPC superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt assured board members that personnel matters were never discussed in a specific matter during leadership meetings; however, he said that recording the meetings would not foster an environment where principals would feel comfortable speaking freely.
“District leadership meetings are where we have principals come together, usually from two to three hours,” Hunt said. “You want to have a free exchange of ideas — and things there. If you’re going to require that we keep recorded minutes of them, that is going to cause people to not discuss issues frankly.”
Gillespie, in response, said that he is unable to attend district leadership meetings.
“This is our district leadership. I’d like to see what direction the district leadership would like for the school district to go in,” said Gillespie. “And the other thing — new and innovative ideas — I’d like to see that.”
Hunt remained solid in his position that recording the district leadership meetings would greatly limit the freedom of discussion the meetings have historically sought to create.
“I think you hired a superintendent to report to the board and to bring information to the board,” said Hunt. “I think that it would be a hardship there to record everything. You have a record there that would be free to the public.”
“Tax money pays for all this,” said Gillespie. “What would there be in the meeting that you wouldn’t want the general public to know?”
Hunt explained that nothing secretive or underhanded is discussed during district leadership meetings. They are simply a time for district administrators to meet and exchange ideas, he said.
“We might be discussing the performance of schools — comparing and looking at schools,” said Hunt. “This is one example where folks might not want to share their weaknesses or ask for help if it is going to be out there in the public.”
Without discussion from any other SDPC board members, the vote to record the meetings failed by a 4-2 vote.
Gillespie and Ben Trotter were the only two trustees voting in favor of the motion.