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MPS school-board meeting erupts in chaos after Noor’s election

Mohamud Noor
Noor for State Senate Facebook pageMohamud Noor

Not since the unhappy era when Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) bought out the contract of reviled Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles has a school board meeting been brought to a halt by audience anger.

Tuesday night in the wake of a vote that selected Mohamud Noor to fill the seat vacated when Hussein Samatar died in August, chaos broke out in the board meeting room at district headquarters. With audience members — many of them supporters of Samatar’s widow, Ubah Jama, shouting and demanding answers, Board Chair Alberto Monserrate gaveled the meeting to a recess.

The source of the frustration: After hearing 11th-hour pitches from supporters of two of the candidates, Monserrate announced the board would choose via ranked-choice voting on paper ballots to be tallied by MPS’ general counsel.

Audience asked about votes

Moments later, Noor’s election by a first-round majority was announced. As Monserrate moved to the next item on the evening’s agenda, audience members started asking what the vote was and which board members had cast which votes.

Monserrate and board member Dick Mammen declared some of those in attendance out of order. For 15 minutes, audio and video of the meeting was cut. Some board members left the dais while others stood there, seeming confused.

At the end of the break, the board moved on to the issuance of bonds without comment. Many of the angry community members left.

Tally was 5-3

An hour later after requests from reporters and others district communications staff released the 5-3 vote’s tally: Monserrate, Mammen, Jenny Arneson, Kim Ellison and Josh Reimnitz voted for Noor, while Carla Bates, Tracine Asberry and Rebecca Gagnon voted for Jama.

One of those doing the shouting was Al Flowers, a community activist and frequent critical fixture at board meetings over the last decade. Samatar was one of several MPS leaders who took pains to reach out to Flowers and in particular to create relationships between the East African immigrant community and native-born African Americans.

At the September meeting where the process for filling the seat was established, several community members and board member Asberry called for transparency and for greater community engagement.

The meeting, which also included a tough evaluation of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and a late-night presentation on an urgent gap-closing strategy, lasted a highly unusual six hours.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/13/2013 - 01:12 pm.

    Why wouldn’t the chair simply disclose the voting details…

    …on the spot, rather than shut down the meeting ? What is difficult about this ?

    This kind of slam-the-door approach to a reasonable request for the facts of the vote CANNOT MISS engendering further mistrust, hurt, and anger.

    After all, the details of the vote WERE disclosed later, correct ? Just not to the audience present.

    So was the chair pointedly showing his contempt for those who questioned the vote ? Or is there some other explanation ?

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/13/2013 - 02:53 pm.

    This appears to be

    … a completely avoidable and unnecessary PR disaster, with angering a segment of the public tossed in for good measure. The chair has to do better than this. School boards are the most public and most accountable public entities in the country — they make the most visible spending decisions, and are the most likely to encounter constituents, whether those constituents are happy with or angry about board policy and/or decisions.

    Straightforwardness and transparency ought to be the guiding principles, but I see little evidence of either one here.

  3. Submitted by Alberto Monserrate on 11/13/2013 - 09:53 pm.

    Clarifying the facts

    Beth, I respect your point of view and thank you for the work you do in covering and commenting about education in Minnesota. You often cover important topics nobody else covers. You and me tend to disagree fairly often on facts, and look at the same situations in different ways. But as a full time owner of Latino activist media for over thirteen years, that has a very clear point of view, I will always defend your right to write opinion columns and have much respect for them.

    At the same time I would like to use this forum to present facts as I see them and explain the way I saw the board meeting last night.

    The MPS school board voted on September 10th to follow the same exact procedure that we used to replace Director Lydia Lee in December 2011. The procedure worked well then, and there were no complaints about the process. Some community members didn’t like the outcome, but nobody ever questioned the process. The voters later overwhelmingly ratified our selection in 2012.

    We decided to vote by ranked choice voting in 2011 and last night based on the strong advocacy some members of the board have for RCV. I have seen RCV used before effectively outside of elections by boards, committees and conventions, and we felt it was a good idea to use this time.

    We used a written ballot because it was the most efficient way to vote and rank four candidates. Verbal ranked choice voting would be a bit complicated.

    We always intended to release detailed ballot results. We all voted with the knowledge that our ballots were public data. After the ballots were tallied, MPS General Counsel informed me that Mohamud Noor had been elected by a majority of board members, that I could go ahead with making the announcement, and that it would take a little longer to have the details ready to present to the public. I did not know the details of the ballots when I announced the result. Only knew Noor had been elected by a majority.

    I, like everyone else, waited for less than an hour, for the detailed results. We did not want to delay the meeting any further knowing that we had at least three to four more hours in our agenda. We also had an unusually large number of public comments, because of our packed agenda, and decided we would listen to every one of them. This added at least two more hours to the meeting.

    I then thanked the candidates for their commitment to apply for the appointment and announced the winner. I decided based on our agenda that we needed to move things along. We then heard from a member of the audience yelling at the board asking if the ballots would be made public. I said that yes ballot results would be released later.

    This member of the audience kept yelling, and I told him several times that he was out of order, that we would not tolerate disruptive behavior. At that point other members of the audience also started yelling, I then decided to do what I’ve done before with disruptive, uncivil behavior: Called for a recess.

    You Inaccurately reported that “Not since the unhappy era when Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) bought out the contract of reviled Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles has a school board meeting been brought to a halt by audience anger.” this happened several months ago, and many meetings have been delayed because of disruptive behavior (MSS public delegations on lease payments, North High closing delegations before I was on the board are just two examples)

    Calling for a recess allows for people to calm down. That’s what happened last night: every one calmed down, and we were able to continue with our packed agenda 12 minutes later.

    Unfortunately uncivil disruptive comments from the public have been common at school board meetings for many years, and it happened way before I was on to the board. It’s part of our reality, and calling for a quick recess has historically brought meetings back to order and civility.

    Less than an hour later, detailed results were announced to traditional media (Including you) and through social media, as always intended, and when the meeting emotions had calmed down. The ballots have also been released to media when requests were made.

    What happened last night was simply that some people did not like the results, reacted in a disruptive way when they heard the results, and we had to restore order to the meeting.

    I hope I never have to replace a board member again. It’s a very painful thing to lose a colleague, and then to have to replace them. Based on feedback from this last selection we will review our process in case we need to do this again in the future and see where we can learn.

    Knowing what I know now, I should’ve delayed the meeting a few more minutes until we had detailed results and announced them on the spot. I did not think that having the public wait a few more minutes to get detailed response would cause such anger. I should’ve known better in this age of immediate gratification expectations, and uncivil polarized education policy debates. Live and learn.

    We move forward and I welcome our newest board member Mohamud Noor, who has been active as a community member with the school district for many years, has a passion for kids, and a deep understanding of the issues we face. He knows his district well and will serve it well.

    Ubah Jama would’ve also made a great board member. I congratulate her for putting herself on the public limelight, specially after her tragic loss. She showed deep commitment and passion for our kids, and has been a great partner for MPS specially at Seward school. I look forward to collaborating with her on the future.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/14/2013 - 06:50 am.

      Counting 8 votes seems a pretty difficult task…

      …for your counsel, considering that you and Beth agree it took either an hour or nigh unto an hour to figure out that it was 5-3. Maybe you should get another counsel – you know, someone who can count better – or even better yet, change your story to something believable.

      It is hard to take your depiction seriously. The results could have been reported in about ONE MINUTE, or let’s be liberal and say TWO MINUTES !! 8 ballots !!

      You say, “Calling a recess allows for people to calm down.”

      You know what else calms people down ? Simply answering their question about a vote on the spot, which OBVIOUSLY, you and your counsel could have done. And then there’s telling the truth. That helps, too.

      Your summary, “What happened last night was simply that some people did not like the results,” is RIDICULOUS !!

      Likewise, you could find only one teensy-weensy little flaw in your own conduct, concluding with “I should’ve known better in this age of immediate gratification expectations, and uncivil polarized education policy debates.”

      From your own account, it is easy to see why the people are frustrated and howling at you. But obviously you don’t see it.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/16/2013 - 05:15 pm.

        RCV

        Steve, they used ranked choice voting, so even counting just 8 ballots was a problem.

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/16/2013 - 11:35 pm.

          RCV with 2 candidates

          Huh ? How difficult can that be.

          • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/18/2013 - 01:50 pm.

            Facts

            An RCV race with two candidates would not take long. But this race involved four candidates. Learning the actual facts will go a long way in helping you understand.

            • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/18/2013 - 04:58 pm.

              Even with 4 candidates

              Especially when one candidate won an outright majority. “Facts” when the Union is involved are fast and furious.

  4. Submitted by Josh Lease on 11/14/2013 - 08:03 am.

    much ado

    about nothing.

    Seriously. The story should be about Noor being elected to the board and what his positions might be and how he might fit in as Samatar’s replacement. Instead we get another lame process story in which it is revealed that…nothing untoward happened, but some people were unhappy. Because they didn’t get their way. So they shouted about it until the board had to take a break so they could actually get through the rest of the agenda.

  5. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/14/2013 - 08:43 am.

    Translation

    “Mohamud Noor, who has been active as a community member with the school district for many years”

    Translation. Union Approved.

    “The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have endorsed Mohamud Noor in the upcoming special election in Senate District 59.

    Read more: http://politicsinminnesota.com/tag/mohamud-noor/#ixzz2kdBWjKCE

    “Ubah Jama would’ve also made a great board member. ….I look forward to collaborating with her on the future”

    Translation…I will put you on some meaningless committee whose report i will file away in the circular binder…

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/16/2013 - 05:23 pm.

      Nope

      I don’t know what Jama’s agenda, if any, was, but her late husband also had been union endorsed. Noor was also supported by the most anti-union member of the board. To try to paint this vote as some union battle is simplistic and pretty clearly just plain wrong.

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