Board considers endorsement policy

Published 10:17 pm Friday, December 9, 2016

Election leftovers left a bad taste in the mouths of some School Board members during Thursday’s School Board meeting.

All three members who were up for election in November ran unopposed and won easily. But it was the endorsement by another member for a City Council candidate that spilled over into the meeting.

The board was considering a policy change proposed by Sleepy Hole Borough representative David Mitnick and brought forward for consideration this week.

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The policy would prevent the School Board from making endorsements for any local, state or national office except by a majority vote of the board during an open meeting.

The policy expressly would not prevent members from making endorsements as private citizens, but some members worried what would happen if their endorsements were misinterpreted as coming from the board.

“This could get pretty sticky,” member Enoch C. Copeland said.

Mitnick signaled that he requested the policy because another member made an endorsement for City Council in his borough. It was an apparent reference to Chairman Michael Debranski’s letter to the editor in support of Sleepy Hole Borough Councilman Roger Fawcett’s bid for re-election in November.

Mitnick said the endorsement put him in an uncomfortable situation.

“That’s why I requested this policy be implemented,” he said.

Member Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck noted the School Board members have no control over the way a candidate may use the endorsement in an advertisement, for example, or how it might be reported in the newspaper.

“How would you explain, ‘It’s not my fault they put it in the newspaper?’” she said.

Copeland worried the policy would take away his right to free speech.

“I refuse to be muzzled with some policy because of what the newspaper may print,” he said. “They have the right to print what they want to, and I have the right to express myself as a private citizen.”

Member Linda Bouchard said she thought the policy would actually protect the School Board members’ individual right to free speech.

“It is something that will protect us as individuals,” she said.

But Copeland continued to express concern.

“My opinion is if something is not broken, why are you trying to fix it?” he asked. “I see us opening up a can of worms in this situation.”

It was the first reading of the policy, so no action was required. The board will take up the matter again next month.