Breaking: WCSD board goes after trustee Church's character, alleged misconduct, competence – Reno Gazette Journal

This story has been updated to include additional information from the Washoe County School District. 
The Washoe County School Board is going after Trustee Jeff Church for alleged misconduct and questions about his character and professional competence.
Tuesday’s school board agenda includes an item on Church and what the board says are violations of board policy. It is being presented by School Board President Angie Taylor, Vice President Ellen Minetto and clerk Diane Nicolet.
Church told the RGJ on Thursday that Taylor gave him a letter earlier this week notifying him that his conduct and character would be an agenda item. 
Church said the accusation that he has violated board policies was a surprise. He said he had asked for mediation, but neither he nor the district would confirm if mediation took place or if there was a cost to the district for it.   
Church and the other board members have had very different styles since he was elected in November.  But tensions, at least at meetings, seemed to have improved in the past few months.
A retired Reno police sergeant and Air Force lieutenant colonel, Church ran on being fiscally conservative and a watchdog for how taxpayer money would be spent. He was elected to represent District A, an area covering south Reno, in 2020.
Church also has strong support at meetings, including from those who don’t believe masks should be mandated by the district. He too has said they don’t work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
Earlier this year, Church was very public about Superintendent Kristen McNeill refusing to meet with him.
He was critical of her decision in January, when she sent a recorded call and email to families about her shock and anger after watching the riot in Washington, D.C. 
But he said Thursday that he has met with her and that was going well. 
Church had lobbied for the return of board reports, in which trustees have a chance to talk about any topic at board meetings. The reports were reinstated after he accused Taylor of removing them to silence him.
Taylor denied the removal was intended to silence Church, but rather was a way to shorten meetings that have stretched to 10 and 12 hours. She had maintained she would bring back the reports if two or more board members brought it up for consideration, which did happen.
Church would not share the letter with the RGJ but said it didn’t have many details beyond what is posted on the school board agenda. 
“If I have done something wrong, then tell me,” Church said about the accusations. “I have no idea what I did.” 
The agenda item says that Church has violated dozens of sections of more than seven board policies. It also accused him of violating board protocols and the duties a trustee owes the district. 
“For example, the duty, care, loyalty and fiduciary duty,” the agenda item says. 
The RGJ has submitted a public records request for the letter from the school district and any other items that will be presented under Tuesday’s agenda item.
The school district has not formally responded to that request. Under Nevada law, the district has five business days to respond to a records request. Because this a public meeting, the RGJ argued that the public has a right to see the information ahead of that meeting. 
Thursday afternoon after this story published,  the district said the letter would be posted with the agenda before the weekend. The district did not say if additional information will also be included. 
Church said he was not told if he will have a chance to publicly address the allegations at Tuesday’s meeting. After this story published, the district told the RGJ that Church will be given 20 minutes to respond to the allegations. 
At last week’s school board meeting, Church asked when other trustees, including Taylor, knew that trustee Jacqueline Calvert didn’t live in the district. Calvert resigned Sept. 14 after it became public she was no longer living in District F, which she was elected in 2018 to represent.
Church told the RGJ in May, when tensions were high between him and the board, that he was attempting to work on opening the lines of communication. 
“I am following the rules,” he said. 
Church said much of the debate earlier this year was around policy that says trustees shall not criticize the board’s decisions. But Church has questioned if board policy trumps his constitutional rights and if he, as a public official, is allowed to be critical.
Nikki Levy, staff attorney at the ACLU of Nevada, said in an interview with the RGJ earlier this year that Church has a valid argument.  
“We don’t like laws that restrict speech, and the extent that they do restrict speech, we need to make sure there is a really good reason for doing it,” she said. 
Levy said an employer can limit an employees’ speech if that speech makes it impossible for the organization to execute its mission. But there is a difference between being elected and being an employee. 
“If you are objecting to policies as an elected, it doesn’t change the ability of the board as a whole to keep moving forward,” she said.  
Levy said entire careers in Congress are built on objecting to and opposing actions and  talking publicly about why things are so bad.
“Even if it is was someone that had a point of view that we find horrendous, they did get elected and that is part of why they got elected, because their constituents agree with that point of view,” she said.  
The mechanism for making that speech stop, she said, is the ballot box.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal

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