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Local lawyer Steve Sorenson gives a presentation to the Green Lake School Board regarding best practices for local government.

Amid an ongoing investigation into harassment of board members by fake Facebook profiles, the Green Lake School Board got a crash course last week on the rules surrounding being an elected official that covered interacting with the public and best practices for social media.

Following last week Wednesday’s special meeting on best practices for local officials, School Board member Katie Carrier resigned.

“It is obvious that I will be unable to make a positive impact as a member of the current board,” Carrier’s letter of resignation reads.

During Carrier’s first meeting as a School Board member in August, she cast the lone no vote when board members agreed 5-1 to require Green Lake students, teachers, staff and visitors to wear masks inside the building.

According to Superintendent Gina Baxter, the Green Lake School District will advertise the open position and encourage interested candidates to apply, before the School Board interviews candidates and appoints Carrier’s replacement.

“I was surprised when I heard the news, but I will support her decision as she knows what is best for her and her family,” Baxter said. “I hope she continues her work with the school in other capacities.”

At the same time, the Green Lake County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it is investigating fake social media accounts used to harass School Board members.

“We are actively investigating the situation primarily to determine if there is any credibility to the offensive content or its sources,” Chief Deputy Matthew Vande Kolk said in an email.

He could not provide additional details about the investigation at this time.

School Board member Andy Gryske said he’s not on Facebook, but people were sending harassing posts to his wife. When one post in particular crossed the line, Gryske called the police.

Due to the harassment, Gryske said he’s had to delete his LinkedIn account and has asked law enforcement to do courtesy drivebys past his house when he leaves town because he’s worried about threats to his family.

“It’s been terrible emotionally; the first couple nights we stayed up late, and we didn’t sleep much,” he told the Commonwealth. “We talked about making sure we all had the Ring app on our phone, so if there were people in the yard, we’d be able to see it. It’s difficult to try to keep your family safe when you’re worried about a potential threat.”

During last week Wednesday’s meeting, lawyer Steve Sorenson, who specializes in government law, gave a presentation to the School Board regarding interacting with the public outside of open meetings, the guidelines surrounding open meetings and social media best practices.

Sorenson said elected officials can only act in official capacity during a meeting, meaning they should not be discussing government business or discussing school policy with members of the public outside of a meeting.

Members of the School Board or Common Council are supposed to act with the exact same information, so when someone discusses policy outside of a meeting, they could unintentionally gain information that other officials haven’t, he explained.

“You’re only a member of the board when you’re in this room,” Sorenson said. “When you go through that door, you’re no longer a School Board member, you’re a citizen.”

When School Board members receive emails from members of the public related to district business, they are instructed to pass the email along to Baxter and to instruct the public to speak in public comments during the board meeting or to submit a written comment, according to Sorenson.

He explained that school boards and city councils act as the legislative branch of local government, while superintendents and administrators are the executive branch, responsible for day-to-day operations.

“You are not the administrator of the school,” he told the School Board. “If you want to be an administrator, get your degree.”

School Board member Tim Lyke admitted that he accidentally violated the policy when he responded to a parent question, after checking with Baxter to make sure he was providing accurate information.

In fact, School Board Vice President Matt Bond said some past board members were very active in consulting the community and many didn’t know it wasn’t allowed until last week’s meeting.

Sorenson also instructed School Board members not to talk to each other about School Board business outside of open meetings.

When School Board members discuss district business outside of a meeting, they risk creating a “walking quorum,” where the public’s work is being done without the opportunity for the public and press to watch.

In terms of social media policy, Sorenson recommended School Board members use platforms only to stay in touch with family and friends, never to comment on district policy.

Additionally, he told the School Board “never make a fake account” because it’s illegal as it essentially creates a fake identity.

“Don’t create a new identity because, No. 1, it’s illegal. It’s misrepresentation and fraud,” Sorenson said. “People have been convicted and jailed for setting up false identities. Especially if the identity says things that are slanderous.”

He added that the School Board’s priority should be looking out for the long-term health of the Green Lake School District.

Written By

Joe Schulz served as the reporter of the Green Laker in 2019 and 2020, before being hired as a reporter for the Commonwealth in October 2020. He is from Oshkosh and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in December with a bachelor's degree in journalism.


(1) comment

John Que

For the sake of the school board and the residents, I really hope both will consider how horribly wrong this advice was, and will do something to correct it.

This was like asking for an oil change, and leaving with 4 flat tires and your windshield wipers jammed up your muffler.

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