Mountain View Voice

News - September 27, 2013

Board to vote on censuring Nelson

School district trustee doesn't appear to be piping down, despite colleagues' disapproval

by Nick Veronin

Though a majority of his colleagues on the Mountain View Whsiman School District board have publicly accused him of unprofessional behavior, Steven Nelson hasn't completely dialed down the traits some of his fellow board members find so irksome.

At the Sept. 19 meeting, even as the board prepared to vote on the passage of new rules governing the censure of a trustee — an action implicitly directed at him — he continued to engage board President Ellen Wheeler over a matter of parliamentary procedure, something he clearly found important, but that appeared to strike other board members as trivial.

As a result, a vote on censuring Nelson was set for the Oct. 3 meeting, after the board adopted new provisions on Sept. 19 outlining exactly how to censure a trustee. The "Censure Policy and Procedure" was adopted in a 3-2 vote, after some of its most punitive language was removed.

Nelson dissented on the vote and found an ally in Phil Palmer, who said he wanted to rewrite the policy to make it so a super majority of four trustees was required to officially censure a fifth trustee.

As it was passed, with Wheeler, Chiang and Lambert voting in favor, it only requires a simple majority of three trustees to censure a colleague.

While the meeting started out civilly, it began to devolve about a half-hour in when Nelson questioned Wheeler about a recently instituted rule, which provides that each trustee only speak for two minutes at a time. Ironically, the rule was instituted in order to help keep Nelson on topic, according to board member Chris Chiang.

Nelson observed that Chiang had exceeded his two minutes and asked Wheeler whether it was acceptable. A testy conversation between Nelson and Wheeler ensued, drawing sighs and eye-rolls from board members.

If you didn't know any better, an observer might think the meeting was a scene from "Parks and Recreation," TV comedy that takes a farcical look at a hopelessly dysfunctional local government.

It is par for the course these days, according to Chiang, who recently told the Voice that he and fellow trustee William Lambert would be working on a motion to formally censure Nelson.

According to Chiang and Wheeler, Nelson has bullied and insulted his fellow trustees and district staff — both in public and in private.

For his part, Nelson has admitted he has "overstepped" some lines. He readily admits that he has occasionally taken an unprofessional tone — both in emails and in person — when communicating with his fellow board members and district administrators.

"I can needle people," Nelson admitted, explaining that it is part of his personality to focus on the details. He acknowledged that the way he questioned Wheeler about the rule may have seemed "nitpicky," but the fact of the matter is that Wheeler initiated a two-minute limit on the board members' time for comment, and if that is the rule, he said, it should be followed.

Nelson noted that fellow trustee, Phil Palmer, also had a problem with the two-minute rule, only he stated his dissatisfaction in a more "laid-back" manner. "I'm never going to be a laid-back guy," Nelson said.

But according to Chiang and Wheeler, Nelson will have to find a way to be at least a bit more laid back. Since he was elected, they say, he has been combative with his colleagues and district administrators.

Chiang, who was elected to the board at the same time as Nelson, said he and his colleagues have tried a number of tactics to moderate Nelson's behavior, with no success.

According to Wheeler, she and Lambert have compiled evidence of Nelson's questionable conduct, which reportedly includes sending harshly worded emails and shouting at administrators at the school district's headquarters.

Wheeler said she has seen many emails in which Nelson personally criticizes the performance of individual members of the district staff, particularly Superintendent Craig Goldman. Nelson has also been known to announce his dissatisfaction with district staff at board meetings.

As a result, Chiang said he and Lambert began looking into the possibility of officially censuring Nelson. Chiang has said that he hopes censuring Nelson might result in a more congenial board.

When they began looking into censure, Chiang said they realized that the board's bylaws have very little guidance on how to take the action. Though Chiang made a point at the Sept. 19 meeting that there was no legal need to adopt official guidelines for censure, he said he personally wanted to make sure that the board did adopt such language in the interest of "fairness."

And so, at the Sept. 19 meeting, Lambert presented a draft of a formal "Censure Policy and Procedure."

Comments

Posted by Embarrassed, a resident of Slater
on Sep 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

Just out of curiosity, I reviewed the statement of evidence against Steven Nelson that is part of the Board agenda materials for the upcoming meeting (Web Link). After reading how Mr. Nelson conducts himself, I am embarrassed to have him representing me on the school board of this district.


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