The Wilson County Schools board meeting was barely underway last Thursday night when a citizen noted that the board violated its own policy on absentee voting during the Aug. 5 regular meeting.
Board member Chad Karl was absent during the Aug. 5 board meeting due to vacation. He was able to hear the meeting and vote on issues by audio only.
Kristi Dunn brought the issue to the school board, stating that it did not follow the board policy for members who are absent.
According to WCS board policy 1.4, which was revised in June 2019, “absent board members may attend a regular or special meeting by electronic means if the member is absent from the county because of work, is unable to attend due to a family emergency, or due to the member’s military service.”
If a board member meets any of that criteria, the policy says that “any member wishing to participate electronically must do so using technology which allows the Chair to visually identify the member.
“(Karl) stated on the record that he was on vacation,” Dunn told the board. “(Karl’s) face was not visually recognized, although his phone number was used. There was a recognition of voice, (and it is) not in the policy that you can use voice recognition. You can’t visually recognize a voice.”
Board member Bill Robinson said that every vote during the Aug. 5 meeting was unanimous except for one and Karl was on the opposing side of that issue, which passed.
“Would it be a problem if we just removed his votes?” Robinson asked. “I recognize (Karl’s) voice. I know who he is, but what is going to make it proper?”
WCS board attorney Mike Jennings said that Karl’s votes could not be stripped because, “the minutes reflect what happened in that meeting. I don’t think you can change your minutes. All you could do is note in tonight’s minutes that an issue was raised about whether you followed the electronic voting (policy) properly.”
WCS Director Dr. Donna Wright brought up past votes during which a member was not present and voted electronically by voice.
“We had a board member who worked out of town and he could not make it here, but he attended electronically, by telephone, and we could recognize his voice,” she said. “I can’t speak to the vote but that was allowed because we didn’t have adequate technology to allow face recognition.”
She added that, “this is not something that is new or unique. I was also made aware of a situation where (a board member) was also on vacation and there was a critical vote, and that person called in from vacation (to vote).”
Jennings said that that when the board voted to remove a previous director, the board member who was not in attendance was connected through video.
“I don’t see that you should have to change the policy,” he said. “The policy is sufficient and doesn’t need to be changed. You should just follow the policy.”
Board member Wayne McNeese agreed.
“We expect everyone else in our school system to follow the policies and I think we need to lead by example,” he said.
Board member Kimberly McGee made a motion to include in the Aug. 5 minutes, the fact that Karl attended electronically.
The vote to add that statement to the minutes passed unanimously.
The vote to approve the minutes as amended passed 4-2-1 with Robinson, Board chair Larry Tomlinson, Linda Armistead and Mike Gwaltney voting ‘yes,’ McNeese and McGee voting ‘no’ and Karl abstaining.
Other school board business
Jennings told the board that the City of Mt. Juliet has made a counteroffer to settle the liquor-by-the-drink lawsuit, brought by WCS against the city in 2014.
Mt. Juliet proposed paying WCS $385,000 to settle the suit. Jennings said that Mt. Juliet City Attorney Gino Marchetti stated that if WCS does not accept the offer, Mt. Juliet might then sue WCS for all permit fees that the city has waived for school facilities and campuses.
The lawsuit was based on state law that said that a portion of the tax on liquor sold by the drink was to go to the county school system and a portion of that would go to the Lebanon Special School District. The board will take up the issue on a vote at the Sept. 16 meeting.
Jennings brought the issue of a contract extension between the Wilson County Board of Education and Cumberland University, allowing the university to use the football stadium facility until the year 2047. In the past, the contract had been reviewed every five years.
Tristan Giles was honored for attending the Envision Leadership Camp in Georgia. He is a student at Gladeville Elementary School.