By Krystle S. Morey
Six of the nine members of the Granville Board of Education failed to show up Thursday evening for a special meeting called to discuss the controversial reappointment of varsity football coach Mario Torres.
The three board members who were there weren’t enough to constitute a quorum, the minimum required attendees, the discussion will have to wait until the board’s regular meeting on July 11.
At 7:06 p.m. district clerk Connie Resetar spoke:
“As the clerk of the board, since the president is not here … we have a roll call here of three board members which does not make a quorum, so therefore, there is no meeting. At this point, we’re done.”
With that, the less-than-one-minute meeting was adjourned.
In attendance were board members Carrie O’Brien, John McDermott and Molly Celani, all of whom voted against Torres’ reappointment June 13.
New board members Dale Bucciero and Ed Vladyka, whose terms began July 1, and school superintendent Mark Bessen were also in attendance.
Board president Audrey Hicks, vice president Suzanne McEachron and board members Greg Bourn, Jo-Lynn Bartholomew, Nekia Torres and Eric Scribner did not attend.
Hicks said she did not attend the special meeting because of prior family commitments.
“Having polled the board ahead of time, knowing there weren’t enough people for a quoum, I don’t know why they proceeded to try to hold a meeting,” Hicks said.
Voters decided in the May election to reelect Hicks, while challengers Bucciero and Vladyka were elected, ousting Torres and Scribner.
McDermott said he called the special meeting to discuss policies that dictate how the board is governed.
“There were a couple of policies we wanted to review,” he said. “Some of them are up for interpretation. Some of them are pretty clear-cut. And on the 13th, we did violate some of those policies.”
At the board’s June 13 meeting, McEachron and Hicks made a motion to vote to hire Torres as varsity football coach. The appointment passed with a 5-4 vote, including one by Nekia Torres, the football coach’s husband.
Some board members, including McDermott, left the meeting frustrated about how the board approached the reappointment.
“It didn’t smell right when it happened, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right,” McDermott said. “I’ll admit, I am not up on all policies. That’s why it took us a week or two to regroup and review.”
“That vote was that vote,” McDermott said. “… but now it has to be looked at from a procedural standpoint: Can you defend that vote?”
He said the question now is: “How do we go forward to make it right?”
O’Brien, who also raised concerns about policy issues, said she thought it was important to discuss a violation of a policy that might have occurred, “…so that as a board, we could protect the school district before there were any ramifications against the district,” she said.
McDermott said the primary policy that needed to be reviewed was one listed under the superintendent’s responsibilities (Granville Central School District Policy #4310): “He/she shall recommend to the board the appointment of all instructional and support personnel.”
“I think that is cut and dry,” McDermott said. “We did not do that. We did not follow superintendent Bessen’s lead on that.”
Another point noted in the policy states: “He/she shall be responsible for recommending for hire, evaluating, promoting and dismissing all professional and non-professional staff personnel.”
“I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to realize that we didn’t comply,” McDermott said.
“That is the true issue here,” O’Brien said. “That we took a recommendation from somebody that shouldn’t have given us the recommendation and that isn’t defined as able to give us a recommendation.”
O’Brien said the board is charged with overseeing the school district. “Nominating a person is not part of a governance role,” she said.
Both McDermott and O’Brien said they were disappointed in the turnout at the expected special meeting.
“I had hoped that the board would come forward, but I understand that people have busy lives and can’t always accommodate busy schedules,” O’Brien said.
McDermott stressed that his concern is not with the individual hired to do the job, “it’s about the process.”
“The community, the faculty and the administration want to know that this board is going to live within the confines of the policies that they are to be governed by, and we are not doing that,” he said. “We need to let people know that this board will run legitimately and ethically.”
McDermott added: “If the appointment process is flawed, is the appointment flawed?”
He said it goes back to a vulnerability and liability issue. If someone wanted to make a case that the district has an employee that’s “not really legitimate”, or “wasn’t appointed in a policy-driven approach,” they could.
“As a coach, I would want that corrected,” he added. “I sure wouldn’t want to be out there coaching kids, not knowing whether or not I am a true appointee and an agent of the school, or if I am going to be covered by the school’s liability insurance.”
O’Brien added: “I felt it a necessity to bring it before the board as quickly as possible, because there is a liability issue if it is determined that the policy was violated.”
Board member Nekia Torres, whose term ended last Friday, has been under scrutiny for casting a vote to reappoint her husband as head football coach.
In a way, Torres casted the deciding ballot – which, according to the New York State School Boards Association, she is legally allowed to do.
The vote, 5-4, was the same vote that denied another candidate, Jeremiah “Jay” Condon, the position as head coach. Condon had been formally recommended for the job by Bessen, athletic director Eileen Troy and high school principal Camille Harrelson.
Had Torres abstained from voting, the result would have been a tie and her husband’s appointment would have been tabled for a second time, and the board would have to revisit it at a later meeting.
There was also concern that a two-thirds majority vote was required for the board to hire someone related to a board member, but officials at the state School Boards Association said the two-thirds rule only applies to votes hiring teachers, not coaches.
“Unless someone challenges it with the commissioner, to say that they want a specific ruling on it, it is what it is,” said Bessen.
Torres and Scribner did not return calls for comment.