Reading the paper this past week has reminded me of why it’s so important to train board directors and committee members on good meeting practices.

In Wake County (NC) a new majority was recently elected to the Board of Education. These new members were elected by a tiny percentage of county voters with a mandate to make some serious changes to existing policy – ending the mandatory year-round school calendar and eliminating busing kids to schools (originally instituted to achieve economic diversity). Emotions ran high during the election and especially after when these new faces won the seats of long-sitting board members.

My beef here isn’t with this new majority’s policy positions but rather how they have handled their board meetings, and I’m not alone. The News & Observer editors expressed exactly how many feel.

Taking advantage of their voting power, at the start of the first two meetings they added items and resolutions to the agendas without advance notice to their fellow board members or the public. These manipulative actions didn’t allow any time for public consideration or discussion of their proposed policy changes. They had the votes to ram their policies through but weren’t honest or courageous enough to allow discussion of the issues.

As I read the editorial and expressed out loud my disgust at how poorly the meetings were run, I was reminded about a recent County Commissioners meeting where a contentious issue was resolved by waiting until one of the more elderly commissioners had to use the restroom. Without her vote, the chair could get the motion passed while she was out of the room, so he did.

Is there no training for incoming board members on proper governance and meeting practices? On ethics befitting public servants? Where is staff when this is going on? I can’t imagine any chief staff executive of an association allowing such manipulation of an agenda. Any executive with a spine is going to make it very clear how horribly wrong and ill-advised that is for the long-term. Those items can be put on a subsequent meeting agenda, giving interested parties notice and opportunity to weigh in.

These antics have resulted in policy changes that affect every school-age child and their parents in Wake County – some will agree, some won’t. However, many on all sides are aghast at how these policies were changed. Another result is already clear – a loss of trust and confidence in these new members and their judgment and ethics. It will also be much more difficult for these two sides to come to consensus on future challenging issues. Alas, I guess that’s politics.

This disturbing story reminds me of how critical it is to train our board and committee members on governance and meeting practices that encourage transparency and thoughtful deliberation. Ideally all our leaders would come to the table with good ethics and judgment, and we wouldn’t have to worry about such things. But we can’t take that chance. We need to train our leaders in governing well. They are stewards of the organization and our job is to help them fulfill that role in the best manner possible.