The retreat topic was to be "teamwork." In this case, Crowder-Eagle's game plan fell apart even before the opening whistle.
Dillon, when first questioned Tuesday, adamantly turned down the MDJ's request to bring its cameras to the retreat. But after the newspaper pointed out that state law - in this case, the Open Meetings Act - is crystal clear and permits such taping of public meetings, and trumps whatever the board or Dillon might say, Crowder-Eagle relented.
"(But) I don't know why you would want to come," added the politically tone-deaf chairwoman.
For the record, we plan to attend the retreat because it is the role of the media to keep the public informed about what their elected officials are up to. And we're attending because, frankly, much of the public doesn't trust this board and suspects that if the press were not on hand, it would use the retreat as a forum to discuss all sorts of matters that it never seems to get around to discussing during its regular public meetings.
Crowder-Eagle also suggested after-the-fact that the cameras should be kept out to protect any "proprietary"-type material to be presented during the retreat by its leader, consultant Nancy Broner of the Center for Reform of School Systems. But Broner told the MDJ she did not mind the cameras.
"We think that the public seeing boards engaged in training is a good thing," she added.
Bravo for her!
When the MDJ apprised Crowder-Eagle of Broner's remark, she answered, "If this lady doesn't care, bring it on."
Dillon's remarks afterward indicated that it had been a calculated attempt to keep the public in the dark and let board members talk without the "distraction" of the cameras.
"You guys asked the question, so that was our answer," he said. "I don't know of any legal grounds on which we could have prevented it."
So why even bother?
Added Crowder-Eagle later, "Maybe (Dillon) was just confused."
Was Dillon, in typical fashion, making up policy for the school board as he went along? Did he really not know after all these years what the pertinent Georgia law was? Dillon had no problem using county tax dollars to videotape then-Chairman Dr. John Abraham giving talks at civic clubs (warm-ups for his hoped-for gigs via his recent deal inked with a Southern California entertainment promotion company?) for later broadcast on the system's cable-TV channel. But Dillon wanted to bar cameras from what was clearly a public meeting?
And as far as the "confusion" referred to by the chairwoman - and the deception and deceit - it starts at the top. This is a school board and administration that continue to be in sharp need of further remediation when it comes to the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts, Georgia's "sunshine laws." You'll recall that Abraham even brought in an assistant state attorney general early last year to tutor the board on the ramifications of those laws. Yet as the year went on, the MDJ reported that the board had voted 55 times in secret - in clear violation of the sunshine laws, which categorically state that all "final actions" - i.e., votes - must take place in public.
2009 also was a year that saw Abraham order a citizen led away from the microphone during the "public comment" period of a board meeting last fall after she had the impertinence to criticize the board and superintendent. And it was a year that saw the board sidestep the sunshine laws by failing to offer advance notice that it planned to vote on a highly controversial cell tower proposal for Eastvalley Elementary School. Angry residents of that neighborhood sued and Cobb Superior Court Judge Michael Stoddard ordered the board to retake the vote, this time with adequate public notice beforehand, which it reluctantly did.
NOW IT'S 2010, and as the saying goes, "Some things never change."
The public has thus been treated to the spectacle of a school board that, on the one hand, professes that it hopes "to learn how to communicate better," but on the other hand, is willing to try a stupid little stunt like this one to keep the public deliberately uninformed.
It's closer to Valentine's Day than to April Fool's, but this school board is already the punch line to its own joke.