What might have been a minor point about speaking with one voice raised questions about board member conduct during the Yavapai College District Governing Board meeting March 7 at the school’s Verde Valley Campus.
Following an exchange between board member Deb McCasland and college President Penny Wills, Wills said it took an inordinate amount of time for her and other staff to address the media after board members spoke with the media rather than referring questions to board chairman and spokesman Ray Sigafoos.
Wills did not specify which board members had spoken to the media or which media outlet released statements.
The interaction took place as the board discussed monitoring report 126.96.36.199: Board Spokesperson, which limits the role of board members when speaking to the media and declares that the board-elected spokesperson is the “formal conduit for the board and is responsible for communicating as the board representative with the public and the media ... [speaking] with one voice on behalf of the board, instead of communicating his or her personal views on matters.”
After the meeting, McCasland said, “Dr. Wills just mentioned that she was having trouble with board members making comments to the press. I’m sure that was in reference to me.”
In addition to contacting the board spokesman, the Cottonwood Journal Extra, The Camp Verde Journal and Sedona Red Rock News frequently seek comment from McCasland — one of two governing board members representing constituents in the Verde Valley. On each occasion, McCasland has offered her perspective with the caveat that she is not speaking as a single board member, not for the board as a whole.
Connie Harris, the other board member representing the Verde Valley, refers questions to Sigafoos.
According to McCasland, the apparent contradiction between naming a spokesperson to speak with “one voice on behalf of the board” and board members occasionally disagreeing is due to the model of governance the YCDGB uses, which places an emphasis on outcomes, or ends, over other organizational priorities, or means. Dissent is to be expressed during the discussion preceding a vote.
McCasland said that she has no issue with the model if the outcomes generated further education opportunities for her constituents. If outcomes are frequently unfavorable, however, she said it is her obligation to offer a voice of dissent. On numerous occasions, McCasland has publicly criticized the board for its allocation of funds, particularly toward new facilities in the Prescott area.
“They’d rather I just stay mute and go along with them, but I wouldn’t be representing my constituents if I voted yes all the time or didn’t speak my mind,” McCasland said March 8.
“She certainly has a right to speak. I’m not implying someone doesn’t have First Amendment rights,” Sigafoos said. “But she’s not speaking for the board as a board member .... She’s speaking personally. At this point, it’s her opinion.”
Sigafoos acknowledged that separating what the board has decided, what the board spokesperson expresses and what an individual board member expresses as her or his opinion can be a challenge for members of the public.
“[McCasland] can have an opinion, but the board has spoken on the matter,” Sigafoos said.