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Wed, March 20

Editorial: Mingus board, admin taking high road on transparency

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Editor’s Note — Sunshine Week is March 10-16. This editorial by Dan Engler, editor of the Verde Independent (a sister paper to The Daily Courier), stands as a good example of the week’s focus on the importance of transparency in government. For more information on Sunshine Week, visit sunshineweek.org.

So much of the 2018 administrative and governance decision-making processes at Mingus Union High School were of the deer-in-the-headlights variety.

Mingus officials were pre-occupied with the school district consolidation impacts of the decisions they made. Both board and administration were overly obsessed with how their decisions would play in the court of public opinion.

The end-result was a horrible deterioration of transparency policies at the high school. School board members took a page from the Hillary Clinton book on transparency by using personal email accounts to communicate public business.

Online board meeting draft minutes were manipulated without school board approval. The most troubling of those incidents involved the use of ratification to remedy an Open Meeting Law problem, which in the end the school board did without following the clearly defined legal steps required to invoke ratification.

To further distance their actions from public accountability, the Mingus School Board refused to have audio and/or video recordings of its public meetings, a practice that is standard operating procedure for elected public bodies throughout the Verde Valley.

The good news so far in 2019 is that Mingus has completely divorced itself from the (lack of) transparency policies and practices of the former board and administration. In their place are clearly defined policies that, if followed, make Mingus’ new practices among the best – if not the best – of any government entity in the Verde Valley.

• School board e-communication is now exclusively done through official muhs.com accounts.

• School board draft minutes, approved by the superintendent, are now posted on the Mingus website within three days of a school board meeting. Those minutes will not be altered without a vote of the school board. Administration presents the minutes. The school board either approves or amends the minutes as presented.

• Finally, Mingus now will supplement its written minutes with audio recordings of its board meetings.

Much of the credit for this about face on the transparency front has to go to Acting Superintendent Genie Gee. Especially on the issue of using private email accounts for board business, during the recent Mingus retreat Gee was firm and to the point this practice will not be continued. The Mingus Union email is the “only email we’ll be using to communicate with you from now on,” she said.

As for strict procedures for the posting of minutes and having meetings’ audio recorded, Gee said those changes were based on the choices of the “best practices” available to the district.

These changes at Mingus are “a commitment of transparency and process to our stakeholders and we intend to honor that commitment,” Gee said.

Mingus is obviously taking the high road on the transparency front this year.

It’s a long-overdue and refreshing change.

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