Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide


A reporter shows up to a meeting of parents and officials from a for-profit company that may be contracted to take over their kids’ K-8 school. The school department has promised “transparency,” but the department’s spokesman bars the reporter from attending. What would you do?

Here’s what Melissa Bailey of the New Haven Independent did: She pulled out her pocket video camera and trained it on the spokesman, Chris Hoffman, for more than three minutes as he tried to explain the meaning of “transparency.” To Hoffman’s credit, he didn’t turn and run. The result, above, is highly entertaining. Here is Bailey’s story.

Bailey, in an email exchange with Media Nation, confirms that the meeting did not fall under the purview of the state’s open-meeting law, and so she did not have a legal right to be there. By barring Bailey, though, school officials managed to keep the public in the dark about an initiative that promises to be both consequential and controversial.

Oh, and be sure to check out the comments. Will Clark, who accuses Bailey of writing a “sensationalized story,” is the school department’s chief operating officer.

6 thoughts on “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

  1. Mike Benedict

    Many things come to mind here, but I’ll limit myself to just three.

    1. While the spokesman described the process as ongoing and incomplete, Will Clark writes in the comments on the same day the story ran that the decision has been made. So there’s a little disconnect there.
    2. Had Bailey been a parent and as such allowed in the meeting, would it have been appropriate for her to report the story?
    3. Seems like they are paying a lot of money for a spokesman. The district superintendent should be able to handle those duties.

    Nice work, Melissa.

  2. Robbie Hartery

    I took a few minutes to look at the comments on this story on the NHI website, and I have to say that was one of the most civilized and thoughtful discussions I’ve ever seen on a mass audience Internet forum. Who knew such a thing was possible?

    Still, it disturbs me to think that this was not considered a publicly accessible meeting. I would think that the simple fact that a public school lies at the center of this issue would make the meeting, well, public. Dan, I know you said that Melissa Bailey concurred that she did not have a legal right to attend; do you know what it is about the open meeting law that prohibited her from having legally protected access to this meeting?

  3. Dan Kennedy

    @Robbie: The Massachusetts open-meeting law (and most states are pretty much the same) requires that elected and appointed governmental bodies meet in public and provide proper notice, which is why the New Haven Board of Education called off its meeting on Monday night. A principal speaking to a group of parents at an open house, for instance, would not be covered by the open-meeting law — although it would be covered if a quorum of the board of education was present.

  4. Robbie Hartery

    Thanks for the clarification. The district seems to have too much unilateral power for my liking. It sounds, based on Bailey’s follow-up coverage of the postponed meeting, as though the management company is poised to take over in a matter of days. I would have thought any final decision would have to be approved by the state before going forward; perhaps the federal grant covering the costs overrides any such discretion, though.

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