Absent and Tardy: Tales from the WCSB Legislative Committee

By Nancy Garrett

Williamson Strong Guest Blogger

WCS graduate/parent/volunteer/teacher’s kid


Nancy Nelson Garrett and Family, FHS Chemistry Classroom circa 1970

Nancy Nelson Garrett and Family, FHS Chemistry Classroom circa 1970


Williamson County School Board Legislative Committee: Are You Being Served?

WCS District 2 Board Member Dan Cash recently noted that the overall absenteeism rate for Williamson County students was 0.5%. He noted that the low rate was outstanding for any organization.

But could WCS students show up to school only 50 to 60% of the time without concern from their teachers? Could you show up at your job 50 to 60% of the time and keep it? Because that is what is happening on the WCS Legislative Committee.

What is the Legislative Committee?

The role of the Legislative Committee is to watch bills that are proposed by the TN state legislature during the Legislative session, which generally runs from mid-January through mid-April. The committee is charged with determining which bills could have an impact on Williamson County so the board can consider action (resolutions) stating WCS’ positions on these bills.

You may remember that the motion to hire a lobbyist for the top performing school district in the State (Williamson County) failed at the December meeting of the Board, with Cash, Bartholomew, Emerson, Burgos, Gregory, and Curlee voting not to hire a lobbyist.

Because of that decision, WCS is the only district in the state without a lobbyist.

At the December WCS Board Meeting, Susan Curlee stated that the $15,000 that was to be spent on a lobbyist “could be spent on teacher raises” and she was “not in support of a taxpayer funded lobbyist.” (See December Board Meeting video 26:44-28:37)

Candy Emerson opined, “You have three people appointed to the Legislative Committee (Curlee, Wimberly, herself) who are eager to serve; we told you clearly we will be as available as we possibly can. And for (as) someone who spent most of my time, Monday through Friday, on The Hill last year—I assure you that I intend to devote myself to the same purpose this year. This is my #1 focus—what’s best for the children of the county. I will fight hard, be there on a regular basis, and report back.” (See video 32:55-35:17)

And Beth Burgos followed up with this comment: “Speaking about local control….She’s (Emerson) not joking when she says she will be there; it doesn’t get any more local than two members of our own body (Curlee and Emerson) on the committee. I know Candy knows a lot of people at The Hill; our Chair (PJ Mezera) has elected a good committee; I have tremendous confidence in them…..we have selected an excellent committee. We can voice our concerns, and they will save us $15K”. (See video 37:08-37:55)

The Real Story: Attendance at Legislative Committee Meetings*

The Legislative Committee meetings, like all WCS Committee meetings, are not videotaped, as Board meetings are. However, the local press (Franklin Home Page, Williamson Herald) and citizen tweeters/Facebookers do attend these meetings to record what happens. There has been no discussion in these meetings about time that has been spent by members of the committee “on The Hill” this year.

The following chart shows the attendance at meetings of this committee to date. Attendance at meetings was recorded by citizen live tweeters/Facebookers and corroborated by news media reports.Meeting DateAttendeesNotes1/5/15Wimberly

Emerson (attended ½ of meeting)Emerson arrived 37 minutes late for hour meeting.1/12/15Wimberly

Curlee

Emerson (attended ½ of meeting)Emerson arrived 37 minutes late for hour meeting.1/22/15Wimberly

Curlee

Emerson2/6/15Wimberly

CurleeEmerson absent for birth of grandchild. This meeting was rescheduled four times – from 2/2 to 2/5 to 2/2 to 2/5 to 2/6.3/9/15Wimberly3/12/15Wimberly

Curlee

Emerson (attended ½ of meeting)

Emerson arrived 30 minutes late for hour meeting. Emerson and Curlee, who missed the previous meeting, brought 7 new bills they wanted to discuss that were not on the prepared list of 8.

Average Attendance by Committee Member

  1. Rick Wimberly: 100% attendance

  2. Candy Emerson (excluding 2/6/15 meeting): 50% attendance

  3. Susan Curlee: 66% attendance

By contrast, it was reported that last year’s Legislative Committee, which also had three members, held three meetings and had 100% attendance from all members.

* Note: Attendance figures exclude ex-officio member PJ Mezera and other board members, not on the committee, who have attended and contributed.

Why is Attendance on this Committee Important?

Well, the following reasons come to mind:

  1. Since WCS has no lobbyist and does not have representation through the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) because WCS is not a member, the role of legislative committee members was to monitor proposed legislation, as promised by committee members. Some important legislation proposed this year includes guns in parks, Volunteer State Standards, vouchers, BEP funding, and extending the Little Hatch Act to teachers. See WCS Legislation Watch for more details.

  2. Personal integrity—via videotape evidence, the committee members assured the citizens they would be dedicated to the work of the committee.

  3. WCS School Board Member salaries—we, as taxpayers, pay board members a stipend of $6000/year. Board members are also eligible to participate in the Williamson County health insurance program, as are their family members.

  4. WCS School Board Member Code of Ethics—each board member signed the code of ethics on October 20, 2014.

What’s Next?

Susan Curlee: “If the people disagree, then let it be known…politics needs to stay out of the picture. It’s about doing what’s right for children.” (See video 38:17-40:50)

Candy Emerson: “If the Legislative Committee decides we need a lobbyist, we can come back at any time. Until we have the opportunity to investigate what we can do and see if it (a lobbyist) is necessary (See video 46:30-47:43).

There is roughly one more month of the legislative session. With minimal attendance by members of the Legislative Committee at meetings, and no reports of what’s been done on “The Hill,” the question remains: Are you being served?

What Can You Do?

Here are some suggested actions:

  1. Watch the December Board Meeting video from 26:00-1:00:44. Seriously, watch it to get a sense of the dialogue on legislative issues. I guarantee that it is memorable.

  2. Write to Board Chair Mezera and Committee Chair Rick Wimberly if you have concerns. Request that all committee meetings be videotaped, just as board meetings are. Ask that committee members be expected to attend and contribute to the committees that they are appointed to.

  3. Stay involved! Attend board and committee meetings on a regular basis and voice your opinion. Good citizenship is a marathon and not a sprint.

  4. Expect those who run for public office to actually serve the public and hold them accountable for their service.