Board riff caused Jan. 27 addressed

• Member’s exit to console constituents created hard feelings

by Paul Rignell

Contributing Writer

Jane Bunting, chair of the Elk River School Board, told her elected colleagues in a work session May 5 that she had conferred with the Minnesota School Boards Association on how to bring closure to a controversial matter that caused a riff between members during a public meeting Jan. 27.

Based on details from that meeting, which had drawn a packed crowd for the board’s agenda that night in Elk River City Council chambers, the MSBA director of management services advised Bunting that no official discipline was needed for any member, she said.

Bunting advised her colleagues this week, however, that they needed to close the issue for themselves for the good of their unit.

Board Member Jolene Jorgensen stepped out of council chambers Jan. 27 at the time of a contentious vote. She said this week that she wanted to address a group of residents there who had exited the chambers quickly after the board vote appeared to be going against their preference on the issue at hand. Jorgensen said she wanted to speak to the small group before they left the building.

Jorgensen’s exit that night concerned some colleagues.

“That was a difficult night to be there,” Board Member Holly Thompson said this week. “I felt disrespected.”

The conversation that Jorgensen held with residents in the hallway could be heard inside of chambers and on a cable broadcast, as her microphone on a lapel was live.

Jorgensen said this week that she was bothered over a colleague complaining to Bunting first on the matter, as opposed to confronting Jorgensen directly.

“I tried to sneak out (that night),” Jorgensen said. “I tried to not disrupt any meeting.

“When I went out, there were people in tears. … It was me, an elected official, going out to address constituents. It was about supporting these people. I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

Jorgensen said that if she could replay the moment, she would not hesitate to console a group of guests but that she would likely choose not to exit at the time of a vote. However, she noted that elected officials in other governmental bodies have missed votes in the course of a day’s agenda, such as in the Legislature.

Jorgensen said she, in turn, felt disrespected as a board member that night when colleague Sue Farber suggested to another board member, after Jorgensen left chambers to speak to the group, that Jorgensen was likely lobbying for votes in the next board election.

Jorgensen’s seat is one of four that will be up for election in 2014, and a two-week filing period begins May 20. She said May 5, however, that she felt Farber’s comment was unfair and that Jorgensen could not know for certain in January whether she would run for re-election.

Bunting said that the MSBA ruled a board member could leave a meeting without disrupting the meeting or violating quorum.

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