Cash: Meeting policy to be ready for review in March

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Superintendent David Cash last week told the Pawhuska Board of Education he will submit a draft policy document next month regarding the online livestreaming of its meetings.

Cash said the evening of Feb. 8 that he had talked earlier that day with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association on the topic of livestreaming of meetings, and he advised the Pawhuska board that it is not required to continue the practice. The Pawhuska board has been livestreaming its meetings via Facebook to help make its deliberations more accessible to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Addie Roanhorse began the board’s Feb. 8 discussion by advocating the development of a district policy on livestreaming. As implemented so far, livestreaming has allowed persons interested in the activities of the Pawhuska board to observe the meeting in real time and make comments. That immediacy of ability to comment on board actions is a greater degree of freedom than would be available if the same interested parties attended the meeting in person.

“I think if we do have it, we need to have some sort of policy put in place to actually know how to work it,” Roanhorse said. She added that she had done a Google search, the results of which indicated that some other school districts were “having issues” with the livestreaming of meetings.

Roanhorse then clarified her position, appearing to indicate that what she would really prefer is a policy that would allow only in-person public comments.

“Honestly, my stance is that when we started COVID and we all had to do this online thing, we did it and we did it so that the community could see it,” Roanhorse said. “Before that, if the community wanted to, the doors were open, they were here. So now that we’re rolling, hopefully, out of this (the pandemic), that that can go back …”

Roanhorse noted there have been politically oriented responses to some behaviors – for instance, the wearing of protective masks.

“It puts, you know, certain people, myself included and my family, in a very odd predicament, and I don’t feel like it’s been monitored properly, and I feel like if people have comments then they could show up and give comments instead of bashing other board members or administrators openly,” Roanhorse said.

Board member Tom Boone took a different approach, recalling that when he served as board president he had wanted to initiate livestreaming of meetings but the school district didn’t have the needed equipment then.

“Our thoughts on it was the single mom and dad working two jobs out of town, they could listen to it – have an earphone in – they could listen to it,” Boone said.

He added that the district has the needed equipment now, and he thinks livestreaming of board meetings should continue to benefit parents working multiple jobs out of town, as well as to make the board’s activities generally accessible and hold the board accountable.

“It’s a meeting in public, and I think that we need to continue this,” Boone said.

Roanhorse took issue with Boone’s framing of the issue.

“I just want to say, as a single mother working several jobs, what you’re saying to me is that I probably shouldn’t even be showing up here,” Roanhorse said. “I don’t understand how you’ll stand for the single parent working two jobs, and that person can’t make it, but I can make it. That’s what I don’t understand. I just don’t think it’s very fair, and there are people that are throwing stones.

“Maybe in the future we can think about that, once all of the country maybe settles down just a little bit,” Roanhorse continued.

Boone replied.

“Well, here’s the thing, in this job that we have as board members, we’re not going to be well-liked by a lot of people, and that just goes with the territory,” Boone said. “And I hate to say this, I don’t care about the rest of the country, I care about Pawhuska.”

Boone went on to give a specific example of a friend of his, who is a single parent working out of town. Boone said his friend works from 6 a.m. until he gets off, and would never be able to attend a Board of Education meeting.

“At least this way, he can hear it on his phone as he’s coming back. He can be kept abreast,” Boone said.

“That’s why there’s minutes,” Roanhorse said.

Current board President Scott Laird told Roanhorse that even before she was on the board, he had talked with Boone about livestreaming the meetings.

“I have no problem being on here, and I have no problem whatever they want to say about me,” Laird said, observing that he has been talked about before (he is a former Pawhuska police chief). “That’s just part of it.”

Laird said the leadership of the school district talks about wanting more people involved. He added that some people either can’t get to board meetings or just will not attend them in person. If the meetings are livestreamed, they can watch, or they can go back and watch the video that is posted to the school district’s Facebook page, Laird said.

“It’s 2021,” he said.

“If it’s 2021, we need to have a policy because that’s our job – policy, policy, policy,” Roanhorse said. “Can’t you just do that? Then I would feel a lot easier about it, especially if there were some noted details in there. Because they can go back and watch it, but they can still comment. …”

Roanhorse expressed concern that viewers of the video could make comments, but board members could not reply in order to correct false statements.

Laird said he thinks board members have to be careful about making any comments regarding statements made by the public.

“If they are going to say it, they are going to say it. That’s just social media and you just have to let it go,” Laird said.

“That’s easy for you to say, but I’m a single mom, sitting in my house and I get a little concerned about my safety, actually,” Roanhorse said.

Board member Mike Tolson said he favors government transparency, but that he is not on Facebook personally and wouldn’t know how to get on it. He recalled that Pawhuska Public Schools used to have an agenda item that was specifically worded to allow the superintendent to respond, if necessary, to public comments.

Tolson suggested that Pawhuska Public Schools could tailor its policy to allow administrators to review public comments made online as part of the record of each board meeting, and “if any glaring misstatements were made,” the school district could disseminate corrective information.

Cash voiced support for that idea, and said the school district could disseminate corrective information in a variety of ways.

Roanhorse said she was concerned there could be security issues. She explained that a commenter could, potentially, use a child’s name and put the school district in a vulnerable legal position.

Cash said a draft policy statement would be prepared for the March meeting that the board members will be able to contribute to developing.