On Monday, the Charleston County School Board is scheduled to discuss its Board Member Code of Ethics.
Insert your own politicians-and-ethics joke here.
When the board takes this up, you can bet a lot of eyes on the dais are going to turn to board member Chris Collins. See, right now many school board members are none too happy with their colleague.
Earlier this week, the board met in executive session to discuss a certain employee’s contract. Talking about personnel issues behind closed doors is one of those legitimate reasons for a public body to take its debate out of the sunshine, especially if it involves a legal contract.
The board came out of executive session, voted on a motion printed on a piece of paper in front of them, and then eight of them turned their copies over to the district’s legal staff.
Collins didn’t — as board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats noted for the record. But Collins not only kept the motion, he then went and talked about what was going on to the media. From his perspective, of course.
He said the board was trying to “get rid of” chief academic officer Lisa Herring.
Of course, on Thursday another board member sort of talked out of school when he said that employee might just get paid to leave.
Still, it sounds like the person the board would really like to buy out is Collins.
This week was just the tip of the iceberg. Collins’ entire tenure on the board has been contentious.
That became apparent a few years back when he got into a legal tussle with the board over an empty school his church was renting from the district — and not making timely rent payments. When the district tried to evict the church, the pastor and school board member fought it.
You could call that a mild conflict of interest.
Board members say that even though Collins insists on the district providing him with an iPad and a laptop, he’s never prepared for meetings and wastes hours asking district officials to read stuff that he is given days before.
In fact, the Board Member Code of Ethics is coming up right now because board members say that some of their colleagues — hint, hint — have become too involved in ongoing disputes between the district and some teachers. This only becomes a problem when said member refuses to recuse himself from appeals hearings after taking sides.
Board member Kate Darby says the executive session leak is another big problem.
“It’s frustrating when one board member is trying to take our focus off where it should be, and that is student achievement,” Darby says.
Some board members say they’d like to see Collins called on the carpet for flagrantly violating the rules, but don’t expect that to happen.
“We don’t pay enough attention to him to devote that much energy to it,” one board member says.
Sounds like the board has found someone to take up the mantle of Elizabeth Kandrac.
Collins is not real worried about what his colleagues think, and isn’t afraid to say so.
He says he works for the people and they have a right to know what’s going on.
“I’m not going to sit back and be quiet when they are doing something wrong,” Collins says. “If that means I’m in trouble, so be it.”
That’s all well and good, but Collins’ attempts to keep Herring on staff seem to have backfired.
He thinks his colleagues are out to get rid of someone doing a good job, but hey — the board didn’t suggest this buyout.
Fact is, the district is ready to be done with all this superintendent controversy and talking about it even more might have hurried Herring’s departure along.
Clearly the board is not enamored of the idea of buying out an employee’s contract, but if it will shut some people up, looks like they are game.
No matter what happens, most board members believe Collins doesn’t — in school parlance — play well with others. And they don’t expect that to change.
Maybe the board can sort this out when they talk about the Board Member Code of Ethics on Monday — if they even discuss it.
The code has been on the agenda three or four times over the past few months, but someone has repeatedly asked that it be put off.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com