Beaufort County school board member Orischak refuses closed-door meeting
Some Beaufort County school board members are balking at the board chair’s request for a private meeting with one of their colleagues.
Board member Joan Orischak says chair Patricia Felton-Montgomery has asked her to meet privately with the board’s officers to discuss their concerns about actions that have negatively impacted the board and school district.
Orischak said she has refused to meet in private.
“Per the S.C. Attorney General’s opinion rendered in response to BCSD attorney Drew Davis’ questions posed regarding the allowance of closed-door disciplines, our existing BCSD Board policy endorsing private admonishments is ill-advised,” Orischak wrote in an email reply to Montgomery.
“As such, I will only agree to meet in an open, public setting with Board officers, my attorney, and members of the public to understand the specifics of your concerns.”
Orischak suggested the meeting be held before the board meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday after press time.
Orischak said she does not know what conduct Montgomery wants to discuss, as the board chair refused to elaborate.
Montgomery did not respond to an email request from Beaufort Today last week for information about the requested meeting.
Fellow board members Joseph Dunkle and David Striebinger have said they opposed a private meeting, also sending emails to Montgomery stating their position.
In a reply to Orischak’s email, Montgomery said, “In light of what you have said in the email concerning our request for a meeting with us, the Board officers believe it is necessary that we confer with the Board’s outside counsel and seek guidance about proper and lawful procedure in this situation.
“The Board officers feel that this is a serious matter and must be addressed by the Board, in an appropriate and proper manner. We believe the first step is for the full Board to receive legal advice from the Board’s counsel on how to proceed from here.”
This is familiar territory for Orischak, who in December was presented a letter of reprimand by the board.
The letter said Orischak had disclosed executive session matters to the press, signed a petition against an annuity contribution for the superintendent and listed the district as her employer on an application through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Orischak said she and other board members believed the executive session to be an illegal closing of a meeting. She said the insurance application error was made by her husband and corrected.
As for signing a petition, Orischak said she didn’t give up her First Amendment rights when she was elected.
The three-page letter cost taxpayers $2,600 for the services of an outside attorney to craft and document its contents.
Then-board chair Mary Cordray, Evva Anderson and former board member Lisa Bush hired the attorney. There was no board vote on the hiring.
The board did vote 7-3, however, to present the letter to Orischak.
Two of the seven members who voted to present the letter, Bush and Paul Roth, are no longer on the board. Michael Rivers was absent from the meeting.
Cordray said there are no guidelines for when or how the board can hire outside counsel. An ad hoc committee has been created to look at creating a policy that would govern the hiring of an outside attorney.