In the Catbird SeatIn the eyes of Cloquet School Board chair Gary Huard, there were some unresolved issues springing from my column last week. And, true to his nature, he met those issues head on.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
In the eyes of Cloquet School Board chair Gary Huard, there were some unresolved issues springing from my column last week. And, true to his nature, he met those issues head on.
Last week I wrote about the close of the complaint issue against Dave Esse. Now, before we go any further, this opinion isn’t about that story, and it’s not about anyone involved with it.
Instead, it’s about how people in a small town handle sensitive issues while staying within the law.
In that column, I noted that Huard has a blood relative who plays for the team, and noted that he had chosen not to recuse himself from the final vote while also choosing not to attend the board’s last closed session meeting in the attempt to resolve the issue.
The board chair’s decision not to attend a closed meeting was a topic for general conversation both at the meeting and afterward, so I wrote about it here. It opened a larger issue.
When all this first started, a letter to the board from the complainants’ attorney said that they would hope board members with personal relationships with the hockey staff would recuse themselves from the voting.
In the end, though, all five sitting members of the board chose to vote, but Huard noted that there were other potential conflicts within the group.
One of those potential conflicts was held by Duane Buytaert, whose son plays hockey with Kyle Young’s child. Young is an assistant on the high school hockey staff, and both he and his wife work with Buytaert's wife.
And true to his nature, Buytaert was direct in discussing his own feelings on Monday night.
“When that letter came out about recusal, I thought they were probably talking about me,” Buytaert said. “Your kids play together, you go to pizza parties and social events together, and it’s a small town.”
Buytaert had some of the same issues with process as Huard did, but the two men chose to handle their issues differently. Both known as straight shooters, Buytaert attended the final closed meeting of the board while Huard did not.
“Every one of us could have had some reason to recuse,” Buytaert said. “But you have to make a decision.”
It’s perhaps odd, in a way, that despite their differing methods of reaching their decisions, both men could cast a clear-conscience vote for the same reason, which was given by Superintendent Ken Scarbrough at the time of the first complaint letter being made public.
The reason given, which this paper reported on, was that the board members are elected.
In that regard, the process did work as intended.
But both Buytaert and Huard had issues with the mechanism of the process. Huard’s complaints were detailed in this space last week and, to an extent, Buytaert agreed with them.
But, as Scarbrough said last week, the law is the law and the district followed it on counsel’s advice.
That didn’t stop Huard’s phone from ringing last week, though, which meant mine as the school board beat reporter was ringing soon afterward. His point to me was valid, which is why this article appears in this space right now.
Was the process perfect? No process I’m aware of is, and if two members of a school board are willing to say so in public, we need to take that at face value. Was the process legal and conducted in accordance with state law? Scarbrough says it was, and we need to take that at face value too.
But can members of a small town school board use different methods to reach a decision in a case that was mentally and emotionally taxing for all involved?
Yes, they can. And they did.
And now, it’s time to move on. But for Buytaert, it may not be the same.
“It was hard to go to the rink,” he said. “You don’t know where to stand or who to talk with. You don’t know who was on whose side.”
As allegory, Buytaert and Huard took different paths to reach the same goal, which is now the only way the hockey community can move forward in the future. It will have to move forward.
Here’s hoping the paths merge sooner rather than later.