The Fresno Unified School Board meeting came to an abrupt halt Wednesday evening when Trustee Terry Slatic refused to stop talking after being told that he was disrupting the meeting and no longer had the floor.
It appeared to be the first time in the history of California’s third-largest school district that a board meeting was stopped because of a trustee’s filibustering, officials said later.
And it came only a week after Slatic was notified that a two-year censure, which was put in place after a series of incidents in 2019 involving Bullard students, staff, and an Army recruiter, had been lifted, Board President Valerie Davis told GV Wire after the meeting.
Davis said she signed the letter last week notifying Slatic that the censure was lifted.
After Wednesday night’s meeting, “I think the censure committee will probably want to meet,” she said.
On Thursday, Superintendent Bob Nelson called Slatic’s actions “political theater” that is an unnecessary distraction for a district focused on educating students during a pandemic.
“We are committed to maintaining our focus on our kids and on our commitment to educate them safely and responsibly,” Nelson said in a prepared statement.
The open session of the meeting began about a half-hour late and was in the portion devoted to board- superintendent communications when Slatic began talking at length about gun-related incidents on campuses that he said the Communications Department failed to adequately notify staff and parents about.
‘Treating … Each Other with Civility and Respect’
Slatic had raised identical issues at the last board meeting and specifically called out district spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog, prompting Davis to read a statement prior to Wednesday’s board-superintendent communications.
Davis said the Brown Act and board bylaws required board members to keep their comments short and to the point, and then added, “We will now start with the board-superintendent communications, with the understanding that this board is committed to governance in a professional manner, by treating district employees, members of the public, and each other with civility and respect.”
But when it was soon clear that Slatic was prepared to speak at length on a number of points, Davis asked him to wrap up his comments. He was undeterred, noting that “other trustees have spoken for 63 minutes on flavored milk,” which entitled him to take the time he needed.
Slatic said he was bringing up a lengthy list of items because his access to Superintendent Bob Nelson, with whom he initially met twice monthly, was cut back to monthly meetings.
The board’s attorney came to the podium to give legal advice and options, and then while Slatic continued to speak the other trustees passed a motion to move the board-superintendent communications to the end of the meeting.
Davis called a 10-minute recess, and Slatic’s microphone was cut. He kept talking. When the other trustees returned, Davis tried again to silence Slatic, but he continued to speak, his voice carrying to other microphones in the room. The board tried to continue the meeting, then Davis called a 15-minute recess. When the trustees returned, they attempted to hear from community speakers, but only two of the eight who had signed up to speak got the opportunity before Davis adjourned the meeting while Slatic continued to speak.
Didn’t Want to Escalate Incident
Davis told GV Wire later that she did not call a police officer to have Slatic removed because she did not want to escalate the incident. But she noted that Wednesday’s events were embarrassing for the district and its constituents, and prevented the trustees from doing their jobs.
“Our community deserves better out of us,” she said. “None of the district’s business was done tonight, and a district this large needs to keep moving.”
Slatic said he had alerted Nelson and chief of staff David Chavez that he had numerous items for the board-superintendent communications, which caused Davis to make the first-ever brevity announcement.
He said the other trustees have isolated him by putting him at the end of the dais next to an empty chair, and they have restricted his access to the superintendent, impeding him from fully communicating with Nelson as the Bullard High area’s elected representative.
He said he believes that the board members, who describe themselves as women of color, are discriminating against him, a white disabled military veteran.
Although his meetings with the superintendent were limited to once a month prior to the pandemic, Slatic said he needed to speak at length at Wednesday’s meeting because too many issues have been brought to his attention to be contained to a single monthly meeting with Nelson.
As for the lifting of the censure, Slatic said he received the letter “but I actually haven’t opened it.”
He said he asked Davis if she would publicly acknowledge the censure had been lifted since the 2019 censure vote was done in a highly public manner, but she told him that the letter would remain private.
Nelson: Slatic Has Had Access
On Thursday, Nelson said that over his 141 weeks in office Slatic has had 169 face-to-face scheduled meetings with Nelson and other top administrators, and additional drop-in and phone sessions.
As for Slatic calling out Idsvoog, Nelson said that violates a board bylaw that prohibits trustees from naming staff and making derogatory comments about them.
“For the record, I am proud of the work our employees do for the district and am profoundly grateful for the dedicated service they provide to our students,” he said.
Slatic had let it be known ahead of the meeting that he planned to speak for 75 minutes, which was why Davis reviewed the parliamentary rules, Nelson said. Slatic violated both the Brown Act and Board Bylaw 9005, which require trustees to hold themselves to the highest standard of ethical conduct and to refrain from rude and abuse conduct and personal attacks, the superintendent said.
Board Bylaw 9121 gives the board president the authority to rule on parliamentary procedure, but Slatic refused to end his remarks several times after Davis asked him to so, Nelson said.