Last night Fort Worth school district trustees voted 6-0 to censure their fellow trustee Ann Sutherland. Her alleged rules violations included taking up too much of the staff’s time fulfilling her open records requests, disclosing confidential information, and attempting to discuss non-agenda items in executive session. (Board President Judy Needham admitted the board as a whole was guilty of that last accusation, as revealed in a leaked audio of last week’s executive session, posted, apparently by accident, on the district’s own web site.)
Sutherland denied all of the accusations against her, and pointed out that none of the listed reasons for her censure were based on facts, but rather “assertions.” She addressed the accusations one by one, calling them “false.”
“I can’t imagine any reasonable person voting to do something when a person has been accused of a bunch of generalities,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, and I think this board is better than that.
“If somebody put this in a legal case, it would be laughed out of court,” she said, holding a document listing her alleged violations.
She also asked her fellow trustees to table the motion, on the basis that she wasn’t shown a copy of the allegations against her until three hours after this week’s meeting started, even though the proposed censure had been listed on the agenda for discussion days earlier.
“I wish to object to this in the strongest possible terms,” she said. “I got a copy of [the censure] at 8:05 p.m., and had no idea what was on it. I do not believe that is a respectable way for this board to operate … by keeping things a secret.”
Needham also asked Sutherland if she wanted to apologize for the way she spoke to Superintendent Walter Dansby when she asked him about the censure during a phone conversation.
“I very much felt attacked,” said Dansby, who said he hadn’t yet looked at the agenda because he was working on another project.
“I would think that you would know what is on the agenda,” Sutherland replied. “That’s your job to put the agenda together.”
Trustee Christene Moss told Sutherland she “didn’t appreciate” her requesting so much information, and that the process of gathering that information bogged down district staffers, preventing them from doing their jobs.
“I talked to you, and [told you] that I think it takes away from student achievement,” said Moss.
“I have asked for a lot of information,” Sutherland responded, “but that’s because I believe that this board does not have sufficient information to conduct the business of this school district.”
Sutherland told reporters that she could try and be a little more graceful in her future comments, but gave no indication that she will cow to her fellow trustees.
“I intend to keep representing my constituents as vigorously as I can,” she said. “I chose to fight for better schools, and it’s not surprising that people who don’t want to fight and just follow the superintendent get mad.”