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Ringgold School Board truce is short-lived

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 7:26 a.m.

New Ringgold School Board President Mariann Bulko spoke Tuesday of ushering in a new spirit of cooperation and harmony among board members — and rehabilitating the board's reputation after its reorganization meeting.

“As board members it is our responsibility to behave in a respectful manner,” she said, before stating several goals of her new term. “The second goal is to reunite our district and work together as one community. The third is to improve the image of the board as well as our district.”

That new era of goodwill lasted all of 10 minutes.

Outgoing board President Chuck Smith began jousting with Bulko after she made a motion to reaffirm an existing policy. The policy, approved in 1996, states that no one board member can command services from the administration without the support of five board members.

Bulko had just been approved unanimously as the board president.

“Here we go again,” board member Chris Carroll mumbled.

That set off a nearly 20-minute, interruption-filled exchange with Smith taking exception to the five-member rule, which he insisted would keep three-person committees from functioning.

“If you require five people to make anything happen on this board, you have stifled the creativity and the openness of this board. You cannot have a supermajority doing this,” Smith said.

“Mr. Smith, I'm not saying anything,” Bulko replied. “This policy was approved in 1996, a policy you voted for, and has been the policy since 1996. We are following the policy.”

Smith also wanted to know what Bulko meant by any board member in violation would be “disciplined accordingly.”

“I want to know what the disciplinary action is. Can you remove a person from the board? Can you turn around and fine them?”

The tirade continued despite other board members continually calling for a vote. The argument began centering on Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla.

“We can't get something done here because of the mayhem,” Smith yelled.

“You're causing the mayhem,” Bulko retorted.

At one point, an audience member shouted out: “You're acting like a bunch of fools.”

Solicitor Tim Berggren interjected.

“Nothing in that policy prevents any board member from contacting the superintendent and discussing any matter of concern,” he said.

“You're the one who wrote the motion,” Bulko said.

“No I didn't. I made the motion,” Smith said. “Give me one example of who gave anybody an order to do something that wasn't through Karen Polkabla.”

“I'm saying, we've been running this woman ragged with everybody's individual requests,” Bulko exclaimed.

“She's doing her job,” Smith yelled. “She's doing her job.”

Board member Lawrence Mauro joined the fray.

“What you're doing is disenfranchising four elected board members of getting anything if it takes five members to approve anything we want from the administration,” Mauro told Bulko.

“Nothing is stopping you from discussing anything with the superintendent,” Bulko said. “What we're trying to stop is administrators running around like chickens with their heads cut off to try and do all these things.”

“I'm demanding we get clarity on this before we move on,” Smith said.

Ironically, Smith ended up voting for the reaffirmation, which passed, 6-3. Gene Kennedy, Mauro and Robert Smith voted no.

“Was that even on the agenda?” Mauro questioned, following the vote.

Before the brouhaha, the board got along swimmingly — cracking jokes while unanimously approving Bulko as president, Bill Stein as first vice present and \Carroll as second vice president.

Smith even handed Bulko his gavel and gave her his center seat.

The board also unanimously reappointed Berggren as solicitor at an additional $10 per hour, effective January 2013.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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