Censure of Fort Worth school trustee symbolic, but also quite serious

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In a rare audacious move, Fort Worth school board members voted 6-0 Tuesday to censure a fellow trustee, citing a long list of complaints that included a breach of fiduciary responsibility and violating the duties of her office.

Trustee Ann Sutherland, one of the most outspoken and critical members of the board, also was accused in a nine-point resolution of disclosing confidential information and violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by discussing items not posted on the board agenda; micromanaging and harassing campus employees and threatening to have principals fired; accusing the chief financial officer of violating the law; and waiting until the eve of a trial to disclose opinion testimony that was harmful to the district.

On her “Sutherland for Schools” blog, the trustee, who represents southwest Fort Worth, called the charges false and labeled one — violating the open meetings law — as “silly.”

While the public reprimand was only a symbolic move that carried with it no prescribed punishment, the board’s actions must be taken seriously and Sutherland should not dismiss them out of hand.

She need not cower to the demands of the majority nor stop her quest for detailed information about district issues. No one should demand or expect this trustee to be reticent or anything less than the independent voice she has been since (and even before) being elected in 2010.

She doesn’t have to be liked by every other trustee. Nor should she ever be asked to violate her own conscience. But neither is she an island.

She has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the entire district, not just one or two schools or individual employees. She must understand that her words and actions have consequences, and some very well could have negative and costly effects.

If, in fact, she has been abusive, verbally or otherwise, to staff at the administration or campus level, that is troubling. Scolding staff members and using harsh language is unprofessional at best. It is not too much to ask that every board member be civil.

Sutherland and other board members can put this chapter behind them, work together regardless of feelings and serve the district and its students. The censure means Sutherland has a special responsibility to help.

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