The Cumberland County Board of Education approved the Tennessee School Boards Association Code of Ethics at its September meeting, allowing two new members to sign the pledge. But questions were raised during the meeting and a work session on Saturday regarding the need to form an ethics committee.
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, moved to approve the code of ethics, saying, "We have two new board members who need the opportunity to sign it. That's the reason that it's on the agenda, and that's the reason it should be approved."
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, and Josh Stone, 4th District representative, began their terms with the September meeting.
Schlafer's motion was supported by Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, who also asked the code of ethics be read publicly for the record.
The TSBA Code of Ethics pledge calls for board members to, in part:
•Represent at all times the entire school community and refuse to represent special interests or partisan politics;
•Support the employment of those persons best qualified to serve as employees and insist on a regular and impartial evaluation of all staff;
•Support and protect personnel in performance of their duties;
•Not criticize employees publicly but make criticisms to the director of schools for investigation and action if necessary;
•Refuse to make promises as to how they will vote on matters that should come before the board as a whole;
•Make decisions only after full discussion of matters at board meetings;
•Respect the opinions of other members and accept the principle of the "majority rule."
•Support full administrative authority as well as responsibility for the directory of schools to properly discharge all professional duties;
•Refer all complaints and concerns to the director of schools; and
•Avoid being placed in a position of conflict of interest and refraining from using board positions for personal or partisan gain.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, asked why the board needed to vote on the code of ethics when it was already a part of school board policy, policy 1.1061.
Board Attorney Earl Patton said Tollett was correct, and that policy 1.202, duties of the board members, also addressed standards for ethics for board members.
Schlafer moved to approve, supported by Janeway.
The code of ethics passed with Gordon Davis, 5th District representative; David Bowman, 7th District representative; Jim Blalock, 8th District representative; Janeway; Schlafer; Stone; and Hutson voting in favor. Voting no were Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, and Tollett.
Later in the meeting, Janeway said he'd like to request the board consider forming an ethics committee during its October meeting.
"We just signed off on a code of ethics and I'd like a committee appointed to hear some complaints," Janeway said.
Policy 1.106 states the board may create an ethics committee, which will include three individuals appointed to one-year terms. At least two of the members must be members of the board of education. The committee would be charged with hearing questions and complaints regarding violations of the code of ethics or violation of any state law governing ethical conduct.
He also asked Board Attorney Earl Patton to attend the Saturday work session of the board to review ethics policies and laws regarding discussion among board members, commonly called the Sunshine Law that requires legislative bodies to deliberate on public matters in the public.
At that meeting, Patton said, "These debates need to be happening about every issue. You have opinions. You're supposed to have opinions. These debates need to be happening every fourth Thursday about those issues. They don't need to happen anywhere else."
No specific incidents of suspected Sunshine Law violations were discussed at that meeting.
Janeway said Saturday, "The Code of Ethics, that's the minimum of where we should set our standards. One of our issues is respect of the community. If we skirt ethics and are right on the edge, if that's where we're at as individuals, we're in trouble. We should be heads and tails above where that's at."