NORTH CLARENDON — The social media conduct of the Mill River Unified Union School District Board’s newly elected chairwoman was the subject of an informal hearing at Wednesday’s board meeting.
On Feb. 28, several days before Town Meeting Day elections, Adrienne Raymond wrote a post shared on Facebook and Front Porch Forum in which she stated there was “a coordinated campaign to change the entire direction of our schools in every one of our 4 member towns.”
MRUUSD serves the towns of Clarendon, Wallingford, Shrewsbury and Tinmouth.
Raymond, who represents the town of Shrewsbury on the 11-member board, argued that several candidates, including Bruce Moreton and Matthew Gouchberg — both of whom were ultimately elected — were spreading false and misleading information about current board members and district Superintendent David Younce.
“Their campaigns are almost identical, sinking to a baseness that is sad and hurtful. It is very disappointing that rather than run an honest and transparent campaign they have taken the low road to smear good people. They accuse current board members, myself included, of being dishonest and to have intentionally broken the laws of VT,” she wrote. “I can and am writing to say without reservation that the information that has been circulated by these candidates is filled with exaggeration, partial truths and outright lies.”
On Wednesday, the board held an informal hearing to address the matter, with vice chairwoman Maria French serving as acting chair.
District resident Crystal Usher, who was recently elected as clerk for the district, filed a complaint with the board over Raymond’s comments.
At Wednesday’s meeting she read a statement arguing that Raymond had violated MRUUSD Policy B3, which addresses conflicts of interest, as well as the Vermont State School Boards Association’s school board member Code of Ethics.
In particular, Usher declared that Raymond had violated the section of the VSBA Code of Ethics that stated board members will “voice opinions respectfully and treat with respect other board members, administrators, school staff and members of the public.”
“You have not taken any responsibility in the slanderous, hurtful and untruthful comments you made just days before the election,” she said.
Moreover, she argued that Raymond’s post, coming so close to an election, could have swayed voters.
Usher went on to accuse other board members of showing disregard for her complaint by electing Raymond as board chairwoman despite, according to Usher, being aware of Raymond’s comments and Usher’s complaint, which she alleged was received by board members prior to their vote.
“The fact that she and other board members do not recognize this, is concerning,” she said.
Raymond then delivered her own statement in which she welcomed the hearing as an opportunity to “clear the air,” and argued that her comments did not violate Policy B3.
“I did nothing that would in any manner serve my personal interests or result in any personal gain,” she said. “In fact, my public statement addressed and supported the importance of honesty, transparency, protection of confidentiality, respect for others and a, quote, ‘fair presentation of all sides of the question.’”
Regarding the content of her post, she said she still believes it to be true.
“I have as much right to share my opinions as anyone else. I did not divulge confidential information, nor was I speaking for the board. I identified myself as a board member to give context to my comments,” she said.
Raymond concluded by stating that she was “sorry if I hurt anybody’s feelings.”
In her statement, Raymond stated her reservations about Moreton and Gouchberg voting in the hearing, arguing that it amounted to a conflict on interest since they were named in the complaint.
During board discussion, Gouchberg pushed back on that request, countering that several other board members were also candidates in the recent election and, thus, should also be considered in conflict since they could have benefited from Raymond’s comments.
Board member Bjorn Behrendt, who was not up for reelection this year, said he believed all members should be allowed to vote.
Newly elected board member Asha Carroll, stated she would recuse herself if Gouchberg and Moreton were asked to, agreeing that it would be inappropriate for her to vote since she was part of the same election.
After further discussion, French welcomed a motion on what action to take.
Per Policy B3, the board may choose to take one of four actions regarding a conflict-of-interest charge. It can:
— Dismiss the charge after finding there is no evidence to support it.
— Find that the charge is supported by evidence and rule that the member should be disqualified from “voting or otherwise participating in board deliberations or decision related to that issue.”
— Find that the charge is supported by evidence and, in addition to the aforementioned disqualification, “the board member should be formally censured or subjected to such other action as may be allowed by law.”
— Take no action.
Behrendt made a motion stating that the charge was supported by the evidence and Raymond should be disqualified from voting or participating in board deliberations related to the issue.
According to French, the “issue” in this specific situation was interpreted by the board to be the 2021 Town Meeting Day election.
Board member Doug Earle then asked Behrendt to amend his motion to include a request that Raymond make a verbal apology to be delivered at a future meeting.
Behrendt accepted the amendment and French called for a vote.
The board passed the motion 5-3 with Behrendt, Moreton, Earle, Gouchberg and Len Doucette voting “yes,” and Carroll, Liz Filskov and Samantha Green voting “no.”