School Board members absences questioned

The Lafayette Parish School Board’s attorney said he’ll draft a new attendance policy for the board to consider after a former board member complained to the district attorney about some board members’ excessive absences.

The board’s current policy states members may miss up to five regular, special or committee meetings, but must forfeit $100 per meeting of their $800 monthly allowance if they miss more than five meetings.

The policy is too vague and doesn’t define a meeting, said James Simon, the board’s court-appointed attorney.

At least four board members have missed more than five meetings — if regular and special board meetings, workshops, expulsion hearings and public hearings are counted as “meetings.”

Simon said he thinks a regular meeting — where board action is taken — is “more important” than “missing a couple of workshops.”

“How can we sanction anybody when it has so many holes in it?” Simon said of the policy.

District Attorney Mike Harson said he received a complaint from Rickey Hardy, a former School Board member and former state representative, about some board members’ excessive, unexcused absences and alleged malfeasance in office related to the absences.

“At this time, I do not see any need to intervene other than notifying my assistant to the board of the situation and to have him address and attempt to correct whatever improper procedures may be occurring,” Harson said in an email. “As to criminal action, I do not see any since malfeasance involves a violation of a law, not simply an internal policy of the board.”

According to attendance records for the district’s main office, at least four board members — Tehmi Chassion, Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey and Rae Trahan — have missed more than five meetings if regular and special board meetings, workshops, expulsion hearings, and public hearings are all counted as “meetings.”

Angelle, who missed two regularly scheduled board meetings but a total of 23 meetings, workshops, hearings, etc. last year, said the policy needs to be revised.

“It doesn’t say if it’s five in a year or five in the four-year term. Is it five regularly scheduled meetings? Is it five hearings?” he said.

According to the district records, the majority of Angelle’s 23 absences for 2012 were board workshops, which are informational meetings on issues presented to the board during its regular board meetings. Three of his absences were excused due to work.

Awbrey missed five regular board meetings but had a total of 16 absences. Awbrey said anytime he’s absent from a board meeting, hearing or workshop, it’s because of his job.

He said he thinks only one excused absence is recorded for a regular board meeting because board President Shelton Cobb started asking for additional information about absences last year, and the excuses started getting logged in the attendance record.

“If I was gone, it was because I was out of town for work. Nobody asked and it was never really a problem,” Awbrey said.

Awbrey said board members are not shirking their duties if they miss a workshop or hearing because of work. He said he doesn’t see the need for a policy revision because work is a valid excuse in the existing policy.

Four of Awbrey’s 16 overall absences were excused due to illness or work.

Some board members attended the Louisiana School Boards Association convention Tuesday in Marksville. The convention began Monday and ends Wednesday.

Board member Rae Trahan attended the convention and said she informally surveyed other district representatives about their attendance policies. She said she’d support a revised board policy that defines meetings as regularly scheduled board meetings where action is taken.

“Those I’ve been talking to have told me that there is no way in their mind, that they consider employee hearings, student hearings, workshops and other such as meetings,” she said.

In 2012, Trahan had 20 absences and three of those were excused due to work. Of her 20 absences, three were regular board meetings and one of those missed meetings was excused due to work.

Board member Tehmi Chassion missed a total of 15 meetings, however, three of those absences were excused for work. None of his 15 absences were for regular board meetings. He said his full-time job as a pharmacist prevents him from getting away for early afternoon workshops or hearings.

“The policy allows any board member to be excused from the meeting if you’re at a hospital, conference or at work,” Chassion said. “Everyone of the single people that they’re trying to raise an issue with has a full-time job. The School Board doesn’t have full-time pay, yet I still give more hours to the School Board than I do my full-time job.”

So far this year, Angelle missed one regular board meeting due to work, while Mark Cockerham and Tehmi Chassion both missed one special board meeting due to work. Trahan has missed one workshop and Chassion has missed three workshops — all excused absences due to work.