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Massena board member’s request for videoconferencing goes unanswered

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MASSENA - One of Massena Central School’s new board of education members in South Carolina during Monday’s reorganizational meeting says he would have flown back if he had known far enough in advance that a plan to videoconference would be shot down.

But Loren Fountaine said he wasn’t notified until mid-afternoon on Monday that his request to attend the meeting via videoconference would be denied.

“The bottom line is they knew from the time they scheduled the meeting that this first week I had plans with my family. I made those plans in November,” Mr. Fountaine said by telephone from South Carolina following Monday’s meeting.

District officials, however, said they were not able to respond earlier because, in part, they were waiting for an opinion from attorneys about the legality of the request.

Superintendent Roger B. Clough II said they did not receive an answer from an attorney until mid-afternoon on Monday.

“We contacted several different attorneys,” he said.

Patrick Serguson, who was present Monday for his first meeting as a new board member, formally requested that the board table the reorganizational meeting for one week to allow Mr. Fountaine an opportunity to attend.

“I have a problem with Loren Fountaine not being here,” Mr. Serguson said. “He said he would make every effort to be here.”

Mr. Fountaine said he would have flown back for the meeting if he had known that his videoconferencing request would be denied, and he said district officials had plenty of time to let him know that it wouldn’t be approved.

He said that, when a motion was made during the board’s June 21 meeting to hold the reorganizational meeting on Monday, he immediately shared his concerns with District Clerk Candace Prairie about being in South Carolina and expressed a desire to videoconference.

“The board passed a videoconferencing policy to let people videoconference,” Mr. Fountaine said.

One of the concerns, he said, was whether he could take his oath of office via videoconference.

However, he said, he got no response and called the district on Wednesday, leaving a message for Mr. Clough.

“I was willing to buy a plane ticket. It was that important. People elected me to do a job, and I was willing to bite the bullet,” Mr. Fountaine said. “He never got back to me.”

Mr. Clough said Monday that no one responded to Mr. Fountaine because, in addition to waiting for an attorney’s opinion, Ms. Prairie had been out of the office all last week, and he had been tied up with personnel issues at the end of last week.

Mr. Fountaine said that he had also talked to Michael Allen from the district’s Technology Department to ensure videoconferencing was possible. He said he was told, based on the equipment that would be used, that it was possible to participate in the meeting via videoconference.

“I sent an email to entire board on Wednesday and told them I wanted to videoconference. I had researched the law. You have to give 24 hours notice and state where the meeting will take place. I told them exactly where I’d be videoconferencing from in South Carolina. I heard nothing. When you hear nothing, you know something’s wrong,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine said he called the district again at 7:45 a.m. Monday because he had still heard nothing. He said he also talked with Mr. Allen, who said he wasn’t able to run a test on the equipment without permission.

And, he said, a week-and-a-half after he initially requested to videoconference, he was told at 3:10 p.m. Monday that he wouldn’t be able to do it.

“This shouldn’t’ have been a secret,” Mr. Fountaine said. “Unfortunately they decided to ignore me. It’s very hard in my opinion to think there wasn’t an ulterior motive behind it. The issue here was the reorganizational meeting and the election of people and business that took place. Even though my presence might not have made a difference, I would have appreciated the opportunity to be heard.”

“Unfortunately, a more timely answer would have been better,” newly elected board President John R. Boyce told Mr. Serguson during Monday’s meeting, noting he had to miss last year’s reorganizational meeting because of work requirements.

“You don’t have to explain this to me,” Mr. Serguson responded. “Explain it to the public.”

The motion by Mr. Serguson to table the meeting was defeated, with he, Patrick Bronchetti and William G. Sommerfield voting yes, and Mr. Boyce, Michael J. LeBire, Kevin F. Perretta, Ronald A. Faucher and Leonard A. Matthews voting no.

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