Members of the Jackson Public School Board of Trustees say board President Delmer Stamps is attempting to stifle input from other board members by screening potential agenda items from the board's online agenda.
"The president is elected to facilitate the work of the board, but it appears that the president either doesn't understand this, or is usurping the board's authority," board member H. Ann Jones said.
The board posts a preliminary agenda online, allowing members to view agenda items as the agenda develops, but Superintendent Earl Watkins confirmed that Stamps told him and board staff in a November meeting that he wanted to field all agenda material—nascent agenda information and fully developed agenda items alike—through his office. The procedural change could restrict board members from ever seeing some agenda items up for consideration.
Protecting the JPS agenda and the board from tampering has been an issue this past year.
Board member Ivory Phillips replaced longstanding board member Maggie Benson-White after a two-month drama involving Jackson Mayor Frank Melton's alleged attempts to extort a favorable board vote on a $122 million bond-management decision.
The board, featuring Benson-White, favored Preferred Management Group in a 3-2 split pitting board members Jones, Jonathan Larkin and Benson-White against Stamps and Sollie Norwood.
JPS staff claimed Melton's then-chief of staff, Marcus Ward, threatened to pull Larkin's renomination to the board if he did not side with Stamps and Norwood in that vote.
Melton sent a letter asking city council members to ignore his earlier nomination of Larkin to the board weeks after Larkin voted with Benson-White and Jones.
Recognizing a gluey mess in the works, the council refused to address board nominations for months, with a majority of members recusing themselves from the vote and killing the required quorum, much to Melton's chagrin at the time.
The city council eventually voted to approve Melton's nomination of Phillips to replace Benson-White, but did not replace Larkin this year.
Jones and Larkin are the new minority on the agenda issue and other controversial items since Phillips' arrival.
Jones criticized Stamps' move as "not in the best interest of the board or the district."
"Board members are expected to give input on potential items, but filtering the items takes away our ability to express our concerns about the item," Jones said. "As a board member, it is my right to see the tentative agenda and watch it (get) finalized."
Stamps denied any attempt to alter procedure, explaining that the board's written policy on procedure says nothing about the assembly of the online agenda.
"I haven't changed anything. If you look at the board policy on setting the agenda, that's what I'm doing. I'm following the policy," Stamps said.
But Watkins said nothing stops Stamps from jettisoning any particular agenda items that bug him. "If any items get removed, other board members will never know about it unless they had a conversation with someone, maybe a staff member, and knew to look for it," Watkins said.
Larkin was particularly vexed by Stamps' proposal.
"Stamps' request is a unilateral action to either deny or allow items for discussion without any input from board members," Larkin said. "It's potentially unethical and possibly illegal. State law says you cannot act as a board member unless you are acting under specific board direction."
Phillips makes no distinction between the process currently under use and the process Stamps proposes. "As I understand it, the board president and the superintendent get together to decide on the agenda anyway," Phillips said. "I don't feel like this means any change in policy that I know of."
"Phillips is accurate in that the policy in setting the final agenda is not affected by what Mr. Stamps wants to do, but he is naïve in thinking that the board president will not exert undue influence in an attempt to control the specific items that will be presented in the agenda," Larkin said.
Please help us citizens keep an informed eye on this current Board. Several things just don't seem right and we need our media to help us know what is happening. Thanks for the article.
The deck is stacked since the removal of White with the replacement of Ivory Phillips. He is a staunch supportor of melton and I was hopeful that a more nuteral/fair person could have been appointed. It didn't happen.
It seems as if our whole political structure is compromised and more and more we are moving to a dictitorial form of governing. What a mess. Maybe we could form a "Watchdog" group to monitor the school board.