Photo: Brian Zahn /Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo /
NEW HAVEN — Board of Education member Darnell Goldson contends the circumstances stemming from an investigation into his alleged conduct fit the definition of a “kangaroo court.”
Goldson spoke about the investigation after board members could not agree on whether discussions on it should occur in public or behind closed doors, in what is legally called executive session.
Goldson wants it done in public.
The contentious debate stems from the school district’s investigation into whether Goldson’s conduct constitutes harassment.
Goldson received a letter in July from Tinley, Renehan & Dost attorney Amita Rossetti informing him that the district had authorized an investigation into his conduct. Because the contract, sought out and approved by Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey, is for a maximum amount of $14,000, it did not require approval of the school board.
Under guidance from his attorney, Goldson has said he declined to participate in the investigation. He said he does not know what accusations were made against him.
While the school board placed the issue on the agenda for an executive, or closed door, session discussion, Goldson Monday cited his legal right to have the discussion in public.
But Elia Alexiades, the city attorney who advises the school board on legal matters, said that right to opt for a public discussion usually extends to district employees receiving a performance evaluation or termination hearing.
“Mr. Goldson is a public officer, so if we were to discuss his performance, evaluation, et cetera, then that section would apply,” he said. “It does not apply to the discussion of attorney-client privileged communication.”
When Board of Education President Yesenia Rivera motioned for the matter to be discussed in executive session, she did not invite Goldson. She asked Alexiades to explain the legal reasoning behind the decision.
“Mr. Goldson has a conflict of interest, and Mr. Goldson’s presence in reviewing the attorney-client privileged communication will result in a waiver of the attorney-client privilege because he is outside of that relationship,” Alexiades said. “He shouldn’t vote on it (the executive session) because of the conflict either.”
“If this is not the definition of a kangaroo court, I’m not sure what would ever be defined as a kangaroo court,” Goldson said.
Goldson promised to “shine a light” on what he terms as board leadership’s insistence on operating in darkness.
Although Goldson had requested information on the investigation multiple times throughout the summer, it was not discussed on a school board’s agenda until earlier this month. As the investigation allegedly continued behind the scenes, local clergy called the board’s intentions into question.
“Is it because they want to shut Mr. Goldson up?” asked the Rev. Boise Kimber, senior pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church at a recent press event outside the school district’s headquarters.
Since declining to seek a third year as president of the board in January, Goldson has frequently raised question about various issues. A dividing line between him and others on the board has been whether his questioning of district staff on contracts and other matters indicates a lack of confidence in their abilities as professionals. Goldson has argued he is against rubber-stamping; colleagues have chided him for allegedly undermining the judgment of district employees.
Board member Matt Wilcox suggested that the board postpone taking up the issue until they receive written guidance on an appropriate way to handle it.
Goldson claimed accusations against him were “scurrilous.”
During a sometimes heated discussion Monday, Goldson accused another board member of finding the ordeal funny. As Rivera sought to mute Goldson, Goldson persisted in unmuting himself to further insist that the district was making a poor financial decision and was playing fast and loose with his life.