2017-10-19 / Front Page

Judge Denies Request to Postpone Meeting

By Brooke Constance White

Only a few hours before the Oct. 10 school committee meeting was underway, a Superior Court judge denied a Newport School Committee member’s request to postpone the meeting as well as a petition that certain items be put on the evening’s agenda.

The committee member, David Carlin, filed the request with Newport Superior Court on Oct. 10 for an emergency injunction to cancel or postpone the committee meeting. At the same time, he filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, which, if granted, would have directed the committee to include the agenda items Carlin requested.

Justice Brian Van Couyghen ruled in favor of the school committee, saying that in order for the court to issue an injunction and approve his petition, Carlin needed to show that he would have suffered “irreparable harm” without the requested relief.

Carlin said he would suffer irreparable harm because he has a duty to the city’s voters and, according to his request prepared by his attorney Michael Farley, has “ … a very limited amount of time in which to demonstrate the value of his service to the voters before the next election.”

While the school committee meets once each month, the next election is in November 2018. Each elected official has approximately 18 regularly scheduled and properly noticed opportunities to demonstrate his value between taking office and the next scheduled election, the request stated.

Prior to Carlin filing the request and injunction with the court, he had emailed Chairman David Hanos, Superintendent Colleen Jermain and Administrative Assistant Cathy Nash on Oct. 2 requesting a list of seven items be added to the meeting’s docket. The list included class groupings at Thompson Middle School, termination of a bus company contract, a change in Pell School hours and the requirement for 24 credit completion to receive a degree from Rogers High School. Hanos denied the request on Oct. 5, saying the Oct. 10 meeting already had a full docket.

In his documents to the court, Carlin included a school committee policy stating that a member’s request shall be granted, provided it’s done in a timely fashion, but the policy did not specify what the committee meant by “timely fashion.”

Based on testimony and documentation from the school committee and district administrators, Justice Van Couyghen indicated that agenda items should be provided to Nash and Jermain two Fridays before the meeting in question.

The judge said that while the actions and policies regarding how an item is added to the agenda sometimes seem to be at odds with each other, Hanos and Jermain need some discretion “to try to make sure there is adequate time to vet and hear any issues that come before the school committee, which are complex and often very detailed and emotional.”

In his ruling, Van Couyghen said the agenda items in question should be put on the next agenda and that if they weren’t, the court would take a different opinion of the events that unfolded. He also said he was certain that Carlin would make every effort to get items on the agenda well in advance so this issue does not arise again.

In a phone interview several days after the Oct. 10 ruling, Hanos said that on a professional level he understands that Carlin is frustrated, but also said there’s a process for these things to be remedied. An agenda item regarding a recent change in the middle school’s class groupings along with several of Carlin’s other requested agenda items will be the subject of a community forums and workshops in the coming months.

“Some of these are huge issues that need a lot of attention and are very sensitive,” Hanos said. “The number one concern of school committee members should be the students and it seems like [Carlin’s] primary concern is with the irreparable harm to his campaign. We certainly have voters and taxpayers in mind but [political campaigning] should not be our top concern.”

Carlin said that even though the judge denied both the request and the petition, he felt that it was still a win because the judge said he would be unhappy if Carlin’s requested agenda items were not on the next meeting’s docket.

“I consider this a victory because what I wanted is for my items to be on the agenda,” Carlin told Newport This Week on Oct. 16. “The unfortunate thing is that parents of Thompson Middle School students who are concerned with the change in grouping will now have to wait until the second week of November, or the 12th week of school, before the school committee looks at the issue.”

In response to Hanos’ comments that Carlin was politicizing in his request to the judge, Carlin said his record regarding concerns for the students of the Newport public schools speaks for itself.

“The bottom line is that the public has the right through elected officials to discuss issues of importance to them,” he said. “And I can’t do my job as an elected official effectively if the school committee is blocking certain agenda items.”

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