Meeting minutes show ex-New Bedford school chief planned to “sit on her butt,” collect check

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By Charis Anderson, reporter, The Standard Times, New Bedford, Mass.

After almost two tumultuous years, former New Bedford School Superintendent Portia Bonner abruptly resigned her position on April 9.

The resignation came just days after a highly charged closed-door meeting of the School Committee during which Bonner locked horns with Mayor Scott W. Lang, the committee’s chairman ex officio.

The committee discussed and accepted Bonner’s resignation – and reached consensus on whom to appoint as the next superintendent – during another executive session meeting on April 9.

I had reported on the outcome of both meetings, but not in any detail about what had happened during those meetings, and in order to do so, I needed copies of the meeting minutes.

I prepared a public records request that I submitted to the mayor’s office on May 13, asking for the executive session minutes from both meetings. I argued that as Bonner’s resignation had been publicly announced, the stated need for executive session protection had ceased and the minutes should be released immediately.

Although there was some initial reluctance to make the minutes public, the School Committee did approve and release the minutes within two weeks of my request.

The minutes were revealing in two ways. First, they captured the extent and nature of Bonner’s outburst during the initial meeting: After being told by the mayor that he would not vote to extend her contract, Bonner replied that “she would sit on her butt and collect a paycheck for her last year and spend time looking for a new job,” the minutes stated.

The minutes from the second meeting were interesting for what they revealed about the manner in which the new superintendent was chosen. The mayor put forward a name, and the committee agreed with no discussion.

 I’m still reporting on new developments in this story, and having the minutes out there has been critical to my – and the community’s – understanding of how the roots of the story developed.

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