The first meeting of the Rutland City Board of School Commissioners’ ad hoc mascot committee was mostly spent setting the table for future meetings.
The four-person committee met Tuesday evening virtually on Zoom in a meeting watched by about two dozen people, including several additional commissioners and school district administrators.
Board Chairman Hurley Cavacas formed the ad hoc committee earlier this month to investigate the process by which the board retired the “Raider” name and arrowhead logo and adopted “Ravens” as the district’s new team name and mascot.
Last October, the board voted 6-4 to retire the former name and logo, deeming it offensive and hurtful to Indigenous Americans. In February, it approved “Ravens” to replace it.
However, the previous name and logo are back on the table following the election of a slate of pro-Raider School Board candidates in March.
Cavacas has suggested the February vote to adopt “Ravens” should be invalidated, arguing the vote did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order because the new mascot proposal was not an “action item” on the agenda.
He tapped Commissioners Ann Dages, Dena Goldberg, Charlene Seward and Stephanie Stoodley to sit on the committee, providing equal representation to both sides of the issue.
At the top of the meeting, Seward nominated Goldberg, who was approved unanimously, to chair the committee.
After accepting the role, Goldberg asked the public for patience as the committee finds its feet, stating, “this is not a traditional assignment.”
She then welcomed public comment, but reminded people that the newly formed body would review the process related to the mascot issue and not debate the merits of the mascots themselves.
She added that the public will have an opportunity to participate in that discussion at a special meeting of the full board tentatively scheduled for June 22.
No one requested to speak.
Next, the committee began by reviewing the charge Cavacas issued and how it would go about accomplishing its objectives, which are:
— They will determine the procedures that were followed during the board’s prior action to change the Rutland City Public Schools mascot and report on what occurred, when it occurred and how it occurred.
— They will consult with any needed experts on Robert’s Rules of Order to identify whether the process was carried out correctly and, if not, what are the consequences?
— They will report to the board the facts, results and conclusions of the committee’s research.
— They will answer the question of whether the board’s prior action(s) and decision(s) can be properly revisited or reconsidered and, if so, how?
— They will make recommendations to the board on what next steps might considered proper, knowing that only the board has the authority to act on these issues.
While all agreed that a review of relevant agendas, minutes and videos from past board meetings was likely a good idea, they also agreed that none of them were qualified to make determinations about whether or not Robert’s Rules of Order were followed.
Goldberg acknowledged that the board underwent a training in Robert’s Rules facilitated by the Vermont School Boards Association last week, but stressed that none of the commissioners are experts on the matter.
“I would feel very concerned about us making that determination,” she said.
The rest of the committee agreed that it was necessary to consult with a parliamentarian who can offer an expert opinion.
Goldberg recognized Commissioner Alison Notte, who suggested that it might make sense to consult a parliamentarian first.
“I don’t know that it’s worth wasting your time to go back through meeting minutes, videos and agendas if there’s no infraction or anything would be changed if Robert’s Rules was not followed to the tee,” Notte said. “There’s no mechanism in Robert’s Rules to go back and pick meetings apart and change outcomes.”
Goldberg said she felt it was important to define the role of any expert they bring in, adding that she believed an expert should be part of the document review process.
“Can they become somebody that can come in and guide us to doing it in a way that’s productive, meaningful (and) effective?” she asked.
Later in the meeting, Goldberg again stressed this point, stating, “I want to know what to look for. I want to go directly to the target. I don’t want to start sitting in front of hours of video. I just don’t have that capacity right now.”
Seward said getting a parliamentarian should be the next step in their process.
Goldberg wondered if the committee’s charge is potentially opening the board to additional challenges to past actions.
“There have been situations, I can assure you, that — not intentionally — things may not have been following the book to the exact details,” she said.
But although much of the meeting’s conversation focused on mundane matters such as deciding what resources and documents the committee would need to begin its work, tempers flared as committee members took issue with Notte’s participation in the meeting.
When Notte spoke again to agree with Goldberg that the board is potentially opening “a can of worms,” she was interrupted by Seward, who said, “I didn’t realize that we had public comment.”
Notte shot back: “I am speaking. The chair of this committee acknowledged me. The chair of the board said all board members would be able to participate equally in these committees.”
At the board’s May 11 meeting, Cavacas stated that “Any member of the board can attend any committee meeting at any point in time, because they all are duly warned.”
Seward told Notte the committee was just getting started and still brainstorming, adding, “I just want to get this job done to the best of our ability.”
Goldberg interjected to state that any board member can participate in all committees, and asked Notte to continue.
Notte recommended that the committee begin its work with the second objective: to identify whether the process was carried out correctly following Robert’s Rules of Order.
“If the Robert’s Rules does not allow you to go back and pick apart meetings or change outcomes, then your charge is complete,” she said.
Stoodley later added that she didn’t believe the committee should take recommendations from Notte since she was not appointed to it.
“It’s the four of us who are charged with this, not the entire board,” she said. “We should be starting with No. 1, doing our own investigation and then bring somebody in when we have gotten to that point.”
The committee ultimately decided to seek out an expert and begin collecting past meeting documents for review.
“I agree we could get high-level, outline information without getting into the weeds … on the procedures, while we keep as our first priority to get somebody onboard to guide us,” said Dages.
Superintendent Bill Olsen offered to find a parliamentarian on the committee’s behalf, and Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss said the administration would provide all necessary meeting documents to the committee as needed.
The ad hoc committee will meet again at 6 p.m. June 1 and at 5 p.m. June 15.