Shoptalk: Incidents prove timing is all

  • Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 10:20 p.m.

In the annals of history, this will go down as less than a non-event.

Still, when the Post reported last week that school board members had voted not to seek a raise — and later reported that they actually had voted in favor of one — I thought we had some explaining to do.

It was all about timing.

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education agenda called for the stipend raise to come up. It did not amount to a great deal of money — the increase for all seven members amounted to $10,800 a year — but voters take great interest in public officials’ pay.

Reporter Karissa Minn dutifully followed the debate on that issue and everything else on the open meeting agenda Monday evening. Then, as was indicated on the agenda, the board went into executive session, citing personnel reasons and client-attorney discussions.

When that happens, reporters and other members of the general public leave the meeting room, typically, and officials carry on their conversation behind closed doors. State law allows that under certain circumstances.

Karissa called me some time before 9 p.m. The meeting had started at 5 p.m., and she was getting worried about making her 11 p.m. deadline. The board had been in executive session for some time, with no indication when they would come out. In addition to the school board meeting article, she had to finish as story about the kickoff of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s 50th anniversary celebration.

We expected the school board to come out of the closed session and vote to approve some important promotions. Karissa wanted to stick around for that, but she also knew she had to make deadline.

She was working on her stories on her laptop while she waited, but the clock was ticking.

Give them 15 more minutes, I said.

She waiting longer than that, hoping to get the personnel news. Finally she left the meeting in East Spencer around 9:45 and headed to the Salisbury Post on West Innes. The board was still in closed session. We’d have to get the personnel news the next day.

Good news: Karissa made her deadline. Carriers were not kept waiting. The Salisbury Post arrived in your yard at the usual time.

Bad news: We missed some news that took place after the executive session — more than the personnel changes we were anticipating.

Board member Josh Wagner was the first to fill in Karissa the next day. After board members came out of closed session, they voted on the personnel matters and revisited the pay raise issue. This time, they voted 4-3 to pursue the pay raise after all.

Hence the update to the story midday on our website Tuesday and the new story in the paper Wednesday. It was no reflection on Karissa. She reported what she heard and saw accurately. And she had every reason to believe the board was through with the issue when she left.

We learned a lesson. Never underestimate what might happen when a board comes out of executive session. We’ll stick around longer in the future.

On another school-related topic, one of our reporters got a message from a young relative, thanking him for the Post’s part in getting Carson High’s classes called off on Thursday.

Not funny.

We reported on our website Thursday morning that students had arrived to find no electricity at the school. And we said officials were considering whether to close the school for the day.

That last tidbit came from a variety of sources but not school officials. We were unable to get the school system spokesperson on the phone.

Principal Kelly Withers told me later that she never considered closing the school until she was forced to by our mention of the possibility. So many people interpreted the story to mean school was closing — parents picked up children and so on — that she had to call off classes.

Withers said students’ strong desire to get out of school at any opportunity can transform idle speculation into rumor in a flash, and soon it seems like fact. She asked that we wait for official word in the future, and she gave us her phone number.

She also said a lack of electricity is not reason enough to close a school.

Good to know. Another lesson learned.

Listen up, Carson students. In class or out, we all have a lot to learn.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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