School board cautioned on texting

STAFF WRITEROctober 20, 2010 

— Keep it above the table, folks.

Young people everywhere may chat silently via text messages while saying something else out loud. But members of the Wake County school board shouldn't send texts, instant messages or e-mail messages about board business while meetings are in progress, the panel's legal counsel said Tuesday.

Activists have complained since the early days of the school board majority elected last fall that notes and texts were flying among members during meetings.

"They're still doing it," Cary resident Diana Bader said during a break in the meeting.

Celebrities such as Tiger Woods and Brett Favre have been stung by recovered cell-phone texts, but school security officials said Tuesday that it was unlikely that texts among members could be located electronically. In any case, board attorney Ann Majestic opined, the general rule should be to make open any communication that covers deliberations.

"The purpose of the meeting is for the public to listen to the board engage in deliberation," Majestic said, noting that the question enters new, tech-driven areas of law. "To the extent that people are communicating about the deliberative process, that concerns me. The benchmark ought to be that it is transparent."

Majestic, who researched the question at the request of Chairman Ron Margiotta, said trivial chatter, as when a member tells another he or she is hungry or wants a break, does not need to be publicly available, but handwritten communications that concern deliberation should be.

Board members, meeting in a work session on a welter of topics, did not object to the lawyer's interpretation.

"It's a brave new world, and I'm sure we'll continue to get questions about it," Majestic said.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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