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MDUSD trustee urges rest of board not to talk to press or public via social media

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 5:46 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Mt. Diablo district Trustee Linda Mayo became the longest-serving board member after Trustee Gary Eberhart stepped down and voters ousted former Board President Sherry Whitmarsh in her November re-election bid.

Mayo, who has served 15 years on the board, now sits alongside Cheryl Hansen and Lynne Dennler — elected just two years ago — and newcomers Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence.

Given her seniority, Mayo may have seemed like the natural choice for board president. In fact, she appeared poised to accept that position when Trustee Lynne Dennler nominated her Dec. 10.

Often on government boards, elected officials defer to the first person nominated and don’t nominate anyone else, adhering to a sort of unwritten protocol that rewards those who have put in the most time. But that didn’t happen on the Mt. Diablo school board.

Instead, Oaks and Lawrence backed Trustee Cheryl Hansen for president, who won in a 3-2 vote. Thus, a new board majority was born.

Since then, Hansen has taken bold actions to improve transparency, producing agendas with more detail than I ever recall seeing in the past. Lawrence, who was already on Twitter, immediately started up his own blog and has commented regularly on my blog, responding to questions posed by readers.

Hansen, Lawrence and Oaks have also all given me their cell phone numbers and have been very responsive when I have called them for comments on a variety of district issues. Mayo and Dennler, on the other hand, are far less accessible.

After listening to comments Mayo made to her fellow trustees before they went into closed session Dec. 21, I now understand that she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for board members to speak to the press over the phone, via e-mail or social media. She urged the rest of the board to embrace her ideas about limiting communication with the public and press, saying failure to do so could damage the trust among trustees.

Here are her comments:

“Trust is a five letter word with a profound meaning. The word itself has five letters, like our number on this board.

Without one letter in the word, the word stands as a jumble of letters — meaningless.

As members of the board, we must work on building trust with one another. Each action can build or destroy a relationship.

The letter T — we must work as a team.

The letter R — we must rely and respect one another.

The letter U — we must listen for understanding.

The letter S — we must speak as one in support of adopted decisions.

The letter T — finally, we must treasure the children, for whom we do this great work.

Our employees and our community expect us to model trust, civility and respect. For me, trust does not include discussing out of context your actions as trustees with the press or through social media outside of your presence.

Trust, when lost, is difficult to restore. I look forward to our positive work as a team, building trust today and in 2013.”

Yet, in the age of technology and accountability, many trustees believe that it is perfectly appropriate for them to communicate with the public and the press via social media. These include San Francisco Trustee Rachel Norton, West Contra Costa Trustee Todd Groves and Contra Costa Community College Board Trustee Vicki Gordon.

In addition, many elected state leaders also regularly tweet, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

After Mayo made her statement, I noted that Lawrence continued posting comments on my blog, showing apparent disagreement with her strict admonition. This prompted the following (exerpted) comment from board watchdog Wendy Lack: “Glad to hear about Brian Lawrence’s ongoing use of today’s customary modes of communication (i.e., social media, blogs, etc.), in defiance of Mayo’s bizarre perspective on the matter. All of the board members should follow his lead.”

Do you agree with Mayo’s position?

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