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No more phoning in for Ohio County school board

WHEELING, W.Va. — Ohio County Board of Education members will no longer be able to call in to participate in board meetings they cannot attend.

Members voted 3-2 Monday night to reverse existing board policy allowing members to phone in to meetings and still be paid $160 for participating. The policy of allowing any call-in participation by members was abolished by the action.

Voting in favor of eliminating the policy were board president Shane Mallett and members Tim Birch and Gary Kestner, while members Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler voted in opposition.

The phone-in issue was last discussed at a meeting April 13. The matter was tabled then as the district’s attorney, Patrick Casey, said he would seek clarification from the state Ethics Commission on statewide policy regarding phone-in participation.

The West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act allows government officials to participate in public meetings by phone, but Casey termed the language in the policy “ambiguous.”

Casey said it wasn’t clear whether government bodies were mandated to allow absent members to call in to meetings or just permitted the practice.

Casey and board members recently received the Ethics Commission’s opinion on the matter, and the commission determined government bodies do not have to allow phone participation by members.

Carder vacations in Florida during the month of May, and she has called in to 22 meetings since taking office in 2010. She pushed members Monday night to decide “once and for all” whether members could continue to phone in and participate in board meetings.

Earlier this year, Birch had proposed a motion in which members be paid only for the first three meetings each year in which they participate by phone. Monday night he surprised board members by making a motion to eliminate the practice in total.

“I’ve been stopped at every store, even stopped at stop lights by constituents telling me they want it gone,” Birch said.

Koegler said she would have been in favor of eliminating compensation for the school board members who call in to participate.

“It doesn’t matter, because none of us are here to be paid,” she said. “I actually think it was a slap in the face for voters who put each of us in office. … Mrs. Carder was easily re-elected to a second term after calling in during her first years. The voters spoke and said, ‘That’s fine. She’s serving us.’ … To eliminate a communications strategy used around the world today to maximize the participation of people like us who are busy (is backward). … We are communicating to our broader community that we are not able to lead our own children into technology and the future world.”

Koegler called it a “ridiculous vote,” and said she would be following up with State Ethics Commission.

Carder said she spends hours on the phone participating in meetings for other boards of which she is a member.

“I would be embarrassed to say it is not permitted in Ohio County anymore,” she said. “There will be voters up in arms because your limiting such a (practice) is so utterly ridiculous in so many ways.”

Also Monday, the board voted unanimously to approve Stacy Greer, a fourth grade teacher at Woodsdale Elementary School, to be the new principal at both West Liberty and Bethlehem elementary schools.

Greer replaces Zachary Shutler, who left Ohio County Schools to take a new job as the superintendent in the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District.

Board members will convene for a special meeting at 6 p.m. July 23 at Bethlehem Elementary, at which time Greer will be formally introduced to the community as principal.

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