MAHONING COUNTY School board member draws fire for voicing opinions

A state group thinks a board speaks through its voting record.
AUSTINTOWN -- Want to hear a variety of opinions on important issues when you attend an Austintown school board meeting?
Until this year, you most likely would have left meetings disappointed.
That's because individual board members rarely made comments, debated issues, or gave reasons for their votes at meetings. Instead, the board, following recommendations from the Ohio School Boards Association, elected a board member as a spokesperson to discuss issues and votes. The spokesperson typically was the board president.
The result was that residents who attended meetings received little insight on where their individual elected officials stood on issues.
How it's changed
Things have changed somewhat, however, since school board member Michael Creatore took office in January. Creatore disagrees with his fellow four board members on some issues, and he has discussed his opinions during public meetings. He also has called the press to talk about issues.
"I think we have a right to express to the taxpayers that elected us what we think and feel," Creatore said Tuesday.
Creatore's decision to express his opinions to the press drew criticism from some board members at a special meeting Tuesday morning.
"We've gone on forever with one person as our spokesperson," said Dr. David Ritchie, who has served on the board for 37 years. "We need to come together as a group."
School board member Brad Gessner added, "we only speak as a group."
Joyce Pogany, who has served on the board for 18 years, noted that OSBA officials recommend that school boards have a spokesperson at seminars for new board members. She asked Creatore if he had attended the seminar, and he replied that he had not.
The OSBA is described on its Internet page as a private, not-for-profit organization of school boards throughout Ohio. Spokesman Scott Ebright said the OSBA thinks that a school board's intentions are best expressed through its voting record on issues.
Ebright also said that during seminars for new school board members, he stresses that an individual board member should not speak on behalf of the entire board unless elected as spokesperson.
He added, however, that an individual board member also should be allowed to explain the motivation behind his or her vote on an issue.
"The public has a right to know why you voted the way you did," Ebright said.
Difference in meeting
Tuesday's Austintown school board meeting was different than past board meetings in that all but one board member expressed his or her opinion on the same issue: The proposal to place a school levy on the November ballot.
Ritchie and Pogany said they were in favor of placing a levy on the ballot to increase revenue, while Gessner said he would consider a levy as well as other options to raise money and cut spending. Creatore said he was opposed to placing a levy on the ballot.
Board President Ray Slivochka was the only board member not to comment.
The board did move to improve its communication with the public this year when it started broadcasting the votes and comments made by board members at meetings on Channel 19, the township's community television station. Comments by the public at the meetings have not been broadcast.

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