School board members ask about use of private messaging app ‘Signal’8 min read
4J School Board Members Laural O’Rourke and Alicia Hayes ask about a private messaging app called Signal. Alicia wants to know why school board members are using it. At the Feb. 1 meeting:
[00:00:13] Maya Rabasa (4J School Board Chair): Laural, you have your hand raised?
[00:00:17] Laural O’Rourke (4J School Board Member): Yes, I would like to add a few things to agenda. Since we have no goals at this point, I’d like to propose some goals for the board, and I would like to add that to the agenda.
[00:00:31] Maya Rabasa: Where would you like to add that to the agenda?
[00:00:34] Laural O’Rourke: I’m not particular about where it goes. I just would like it to be in the agenda. The budget committee needs goals. And we need goals and we do not have any, so I would like to propose some, and if people agree, great. If not, we go and try again.
[00:00:50] Maya Rabasa: So item for information, yeah?
[00:00:53] Laural O’Rourke: Um, yeah. ‘Cause we could always vote if we decide to change it to an item for action. That’s fine.
[00:01:01] Maya Rabasa: Okay. Do we have agreement to add as an item for information, ‘Board goals’? Can we get head nods? Okay. We’ll add as an item for information, ‘Board goals.’ Laural, you mentioned another thing.
[00:01:19] Laural O’Rourke: Yes. The other thing I would like to add to an item for information is, how board members communicate and having a policy around our communication and what we use. We know that board members use Signal, which I believe is against public meeting law because all the messages disappear, immediately almost, depending on what times you pick.
[00:01:48] And so I think as a board we should decide an ethical way we would like to have our communication.
[00:01:56] Maya Rabasa: So is that also an item for information? Is that what you’re asking?
[00:02:01] Laural O’Rourke: I think we’ll have to have a discussion and then maybe get more information. So I guess that is an item for information.
[00:02:09] Maya Rabasa: So do we have agreement to add as an item for information, ‘Board communication’? Judy, do we have head nods from everyone?
[00:02:26] So Judy and Alicia? Okay, we can have that as an item for information.
[00:02:40] John Q: That was the original amount of silence, during which no board member raised a voice in opposition. It appeared the agenda item was added with unanimous consent.
[00:02:51] Maya Rabasa: Superintendent Dey.
[00:02:53] Superintendent Andy Dey: In the opposite direction we had hoped to have on the consent agenda, ‘Approved memorandum of agreement with OSEA concerning landscape support from community vendors.’ We have tentative agreement, but that’s not yet been ratified.
[00:03:04] John Q: The discussion lasts about a minute as the board removes that consent agenda item. Then a board member reopens the earlier item, which seemed already decided.
[00:03:15] Gordon Lafer (4J School Board Vice Chair): I just want to go back to the issue about communication. As far as my understanding is, to change the agenda takes either unanimous consent or a majority vote. And we didn’t have either of those for that item.
[00:03:28] And to me, it seems like something that would be better to either have questions in and get legal advice from in a memo before we put time in the meeting. So, I myself would not support spending time on tonight’s meeting doing that. But if we’re going to vote, we should have a vote and see if there’s a majority to do it or not.
[00:03:45] Laural O’Rourke: If that happens, we need to vote for everything that has been added because we didn’t vote on everything appropriately.
[00:03:52] Gordon Lafer: We either need unanimous consent or a vote.
[00:03:55] Laural O’Rourke: No. I can’t see any head nods.
[00:03:58] Maya Rabasa: The other items have unanimous consent. This item does not. So Laural, if you want to make a motion, we can have it seconded and then vote.
[00:04:07] Laural O’Rourke: I haven’t, I didn’t give a head nod for any of the other things because I couldn’t see any head nods. And also, we’re not allowed straw polls based on Robert’s Rules (of Order). So we need to vote on everything that has been added to the agenda, then if we’re going to follow—
[00:04:25] all of a sudden, after I place something, the Black board member asks for something to be placed on the agenda, all of a sudden now Gordon is asking for a certain kind of vote, when before that wasn’t an issue.
[00:04:39] Maya Rabasa: So Laurel, nobody (That’s his bias), nobody indicated opposition to any of the other requests for changes in the agenda. So—
[00:04:49] Laural O’Rourke: That wasn’t the question asked. (The question was asked.) The question that needs to be asked is, ‘Is there anybody opposed?’ That wasn’t the question that was ever asked.
[00:04:59] Maya Rabasa: Laural, do you have opposition to any of the agenda items that we have changed on the agenda?
[00:05:07] Laural O’Rourke: You’re singling me out now, and that is unprofessional and not okay. What I’m saying is this should be added. Gordon is singling me out. After all the other ones, I did not see the head nods of everybody, so I would like an actual vote for all of the items so we can be fair and not just single out the Black board member as we—you and Gordon—seem to do every meeting.
[00:05:35] Maya Rabasa: Okay. I will ask all the board members for any of the agenda items. Is there anyone who objects to any of the agenda items. We’ve already heard Gordon ask for us to bring the last one to a vote. Is there—? I’ll go through all of them.
[00:05:51] John Q: This might have been a good point to pause the discussion, and to recognize the state champion volleyball team. That did not happen. About five minutes later, the students gave up and left the room.
[00:06:03] Maya Rabasa: I want to point out that we just cleared the room of a handful of students who were here to be honored because we are at 7:45 in our meeting. This—this is not how we need to be conducting ourselves when we have students here to honor. I’m going to call the question on this vote. All those in favor of adding to the agenda—
[00:06:26] Laural O’Rourke: Calling the question means asking for a vote to call the question. We are conducting ourselves as a board and responsibly.
[00:06:37] Maya Rabasa: No, we’re not behaving responsibly when a room of students just left the meeting. Does anybody object?
[00:06:45] Laural O’Rourke: I’m not there, because I cannot be there, because there—you refuse to bring security back to the meeting.
[00:06:53] Alicia Hayes (4J School Board Member): Is there a way to pause this because we need, we need to finish this discussion, we really need to be able to get the students back in to pause this and honor them.
[00:07:02] John Q: After honoring 4J’s first state volleyball championship since Churchill in 1974, the board reaffirmed its agenda changes, then took up ‘Appropriate communications among board members.’
[00:07:15] Maya Rabasa: Gordon has indicated that he is not in favor of that. And so, Laural, would you please make a motion?
[00:07:23] Laural O’Rourke: I make a motion to have a discussion about board policy on what would be acceptable communication between board members.
[00:07:31] John Q: A friendly amendment from Judy Newman.
[00:07:34] Judy Newman (4J School Board Member): So I’d like to suggest that we put it on agenda for a meeting date certain, maybe next month, so we know what we’re looking at. That’s my thought.
[00:07:45] Laural O’Rourke: My only worry about that is I have been blocked repeatedly by Maya and Gordon in putting things on the agenda. And so that’s the reason I have to do it at the beginning of the meeting. I absolutely would use that system if I thought it would work, but I’m told things will go and be done another way, and then they don’t happen at all. So I don’t, I don’t know what to do in that, except that my voice is being blocked by our leadership.
[00:08:14] Maya Rabasa: So you’re not accepting the friendly amendment. Is there any—is there a second to the original motion?
[00:08:22] Alicia Hayes: I know Laurel called out Signal and there may be other things, like, Maya, your email to all of us about not starting an email with ‘Don’t respond, but here’s my thoughts.’ I think there’s all of that wrapped into it. That’s why I want to put it on the agenda.
[00:08:36] I don’t know what Signal is, but I know that three board members don’t use it and four board members do. And so it’s confusing to me why that is. And so I want to have that discussion as well.
[00:08:47] The conversation today would be to formulate questions for legal counsel. It may be that we start it in two weeks and have the conversation to formulate the questions and then bring in legal. So, however that works is fine. I just really want to make sure that we as a board get to have that conversation.
[00:09:04] Laural O’Rourke: The characterization that this is an accusation is also, again, characterizing me as an attacking Black woman, and that is inappropriate. What I am trying to do is look at our ethics and make sure we’re behaving appropriately. And we as board members can make a decision of what our policy is.
[00:09:29] Yes, I know we have board members right now who do not follow our policies, but I think that they’ll be held accountable for that in the long run.
[00:09:37] While absolutely we should have a lawyer talk to us, I think starting the discussion, knowing what is happening, and having the discussion, and bringing it out into the open is really important.
[00:09:51] And it’s not just about Signal…We are seven equal board members and it’s important that we remember that we’re all equal and to behave as such, and not use systems against other board members, ‘cause that’s inequitable and it’s also unethical.
[00:10:13] John Q: Just before the close of the meeting:
[00:10:16] Alicia Hayes: I want to look at our communication as a board. I would like to have staff explain to me and everybody else what this app ‘Signal’ is. I just want to know what it is because I hear people are using it and I don’t, I’m not really sure what it is… I want to know why we’re using it. And I also really want clarity. I appreciate Maya’s email to all of us about how we email the board and I’d like to make sure we’re all clear on that.
[00:10:50] And those are two big pieces of communication that I would like to see come back to the board relatively soon to make sure we’re all in compliance.
[00:10:59] John Q: Two school board members want to learn more about private encrypted messages, why some board members are communicating in that way, and why not everyone has been included in the conversation.