A couple of people have mentioned that I've been easier on Chairman Henry Brackett than I have on Board Member Jim Kach. Believe it or not, I genuinely like Mr. Brackett, and we get along pretty well. His granddaughter is in the same first grade class as my son. As a concerned and loving grandfather, he's great. I just think he's made a hash of things as chairman of the school board . I don't really agree I've gone easy so far, but I thought I should write something that focuses on the chairman. It's no secret that I want people to vote this Tuesday against the incumbents, and for the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al, and Maria.
Maria Barth, who's running against Chairman Brackett for the Lee seat, is by far the superior candidate. She served 11 successful years as Chairman of the Kittery, ME school board. Her record is unblemished. When she moved back to our district, the good people of Kittery were very sorry to see her go.
Mr. Brackett has served two tumultuous years as chairman, and has twice been found to have violated the law (and, in each case, in multiple ways). Along the way, he's managed and to get half the community seriously fed up with the board, and the other half seriously fed up with the first half. As far as I can tell, he hasn't gotten it together enough to make a website for his campaign -- so much for communicating with the community . But more importantly, it's remarkable how Chairman Brackett, whenever he was presented with an opportunity to unite the community, consistently chose to divide.
For example, when Ann Wright resigned from the board, she did so on January 24th, 2012, the last day she could and still ensure that Tuesday's election decides who serves out her term. Any later and the board, not the public, would choose who finishes her term. Ann Wright was often the lone voice on the board representing people like me. It was suggested at public comments that the board appoint Ann Wright herself as interim member to serve until the election. This would have allowed her to continue to participate in the superintendent search. It really would have cost the board nothing to appoint her, and it would have truly been a welcome gesture that would have united the community. But Chairman Brackett could not bring himself to do it. Instead, he chose to leave the seat empty, to silence the one opposing voice.
I first came into contact with the Chairman at the 7/20/2011 board meeting, where the public first got up to voice concern about Mr. Kach's tweets. Chairman Brackett wasn't there, but he participated by speakerphone. He seemed unaware of the rules for participating by speakerphone (roll call votes are required) so most of the votes taken were invalid and had to be redone. The moment at the meeting that is emblematic of how much the chairman respects the public came during an early comment. A dial tone emerges from the speakerphone and the board scrambles to turn it off. Chairman Brackett had literally hung up on the public. Don't believe me? Here it is.
By the next meeting it was clear that Mr. Kach would not resign over the tweets, and the issue became whether the board and its members would condone or condemn the tweets. I think board members Krista Butts and Ann Wright did the honorable thing and spoke out against the tweets. Chairman Brackett could have easily said "Jim, I think many of the tweets are deplorable, and not worthy of a representative of our district. I am going to work to change our policies so that we board members are held to at least as high a standard as we hold our administrators, teachers, staff, and students." This would have gone a long way toward uniting the community. Instead, Chairman Brackett stated the board had no power to censure one of its members. I think he just made this up; it was easy to find this example of a New Hampshire school board censuring a member. In any case, nothing stopped individual board members from speaking out against the tweets, which Chairman Brackett never did.
The tweets were so vile, and so contrary to the values that I would want in someone with the awesome responsibility of educating my children, that I felt strongly that Mr. Kach did not represent me and should resign. The reaction my neighbors indicated they largely concurred. When Mr. Kach did not resign, the onus was on the board to condemn the tweets. They did not, and by tacitly condoning the tweets, they took the shame Mr. Kach had brought upon himself and spread it upon the entire board. The only recourse left to the community was public comments, and this Tuesday's election. The community needs to come together regardless of political party or stance on other issues and say these tweets are unacceptable, that the board condoning them is unacceptable, and thus Mr. Kach and Chairman Brackett should not be reelected. If the voters do reelect Mr. Kach and the chairman, we will have brought the shame of those tweets upon the entire community. That would make me very sad.
But I think even worse behavior on the chairman's part was uncovered by the lawsuits. I've seen Mr. Kach try to spin the whole affair as Mr. Brackett failing to turn over a few emails in a timely fashion. The court documents reveal that this was just the tip of the iceberg. For example. here's an invoice from a law firm:
Note this is obviously school board business ("RE: Termination of Howard Colter") but for some reason the invoice was sent to Mr. Brackett's home address. The firm and the attorney appear to have no specialty in education law or with governing boards. Note that the date on the item that first refers to the superintendent is April 15th, a full two months before the board took any official action to authorize work on a superintendent transition. If you believe the title of the invoice, the March 24th call was also in regards to the "Termination of Howard Colter". This plot was brewing for almost three months. Actually, on January 18th Mr. Kach tweeted: SAU#5-NH needs new Supt.;New HS Principal&New Food Ser. Manager. This plan seems to have been in the works at least six months before becoming public.
What's exasperating about all this is that the board has full authority to legally change superintendents and most of the other things they wanted to do. All they had to do is follow the well-established procedures. Apparently Mr. Colter was willing to discuss his separation from the district in public; it was the chairman and Mr. Kach that acted to keep it secret. They could have legally held the deliberations in non-public session, but instead Mr. Brackett chose to hold illegal, secret meetings, including two in the Durham Police station, one of which was discovered by former Director of Instruction Dr. Meredith Nadeau. Here's the relevant section of the judge's ruling:
The board claims that the Right-to-Know law is difficult to understand, and they were given bad council. And they were -- under the chairman's leadership they didn't use the district's education lawyer, instead relying on outside council without the relevant experience. But they really only needed the lawyer because they were trying to skirt the public meeting requirements. Had they relied on the well-known rules for public and non-public sessions they could have accomplished their goals without violating any laws.
Maybe instead of asking a lawyer if it's OK to have secret meetings in police stations, just don't have secret meetings in police stations. Instead of hiring a new lawyer to do a secret deal and have the lawyer send the bills to the chairman's house, how about using the regular lawyer, having the meetings according the rules, and have the bills sent to the SAU office? The only reason I can see for not following the law is that following the law may have alerted the public to what they were up to, which apparently Chairman Brackett wanted to avoid. I will point out that the T.E.A.M. - Tom, Ed, Al, and Maria - have all campaigned on scrupulously obeying all applicable laws.
I don't know about anybody else, but when I find out my elected representatives have acted to keep public business from the public, I get the feeling they might not have the public's best interests at heart. We're lucky to live in a state and a country where it's actually the law that they're not allowed to this. Two judges found Chairman Brackett violated this law, and the second imposed the harshest penalty available, an injunction. This means if he violates the law again he risks contempt of court. I'm asking the voters to do Henry Brackett the biggest favor of his life by voting for Maria Barth and getting Mr. Brackett off the board before he ends up in jail. The same goes for the Madbury seat: Keep Mr. Kach out of jail by electing Dr. Ed. Charle.
- Dean Rubine, Lee