BHS board chair removed for violation of duties
By Lisa Brody
Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education President Paul Kolin was removed from his position by his fellow board members, effective immediately, at the board meeting Thursday, September 23, following actions he independently took in his position as board president to inform police of a list of parents who are allegedly “anti-maskers” that was posted to Facebook by another parent.
Trustee Siva Kumar made a point of order at the beginning of the meeting, requesting to amend the agenda before public comment, “to remove Paul Kolin as board president and all board offices, effect immediately, and restrict his participation to any office participation or any committee chairman for the period of one calendar year.”
The motion was quickly seconded, but before it could be moved on or discussed, Kolin made a lengthy statement, saying that he had received a list of individual Bloomfield Hills School District anti-mask parents that had apparently been circulating on social media “and I was asked to send the list to the district and the police liaison since this was viewed by some members and individuals as a hate crime against 97 families who were on the list. At that point I sent the whole list … and there was an investigation by the police… The community person who created the list admitted to starting the list and publicly disseminating it with no malice intended to do so. She said she had justification for a lawsuit against myself and wanted me to apologize to her. Two board members called me and demanded that all information provided to the liaison officer be sent to them. I refused – it was part of a current investigation. These board members said I violated the board operating policy and requested a closed door meeting prior to the meeting today.”
He said he also informed and provided all information to districts superintendent Pat Watson.
He went on further to assert he followed school bylaws, board policies and operating procedures, “and these are the facts… Threats of a lawsuit are frivolous and chilling to any whistleblower that asks for any determination of an act. It's amazing we tell our students, 'If you see something, say something,' but we don't expect the opposite.”
He said that board members requesting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the police on the report “troubling.”
Kumar responded that he wished to emphasize to the community that the action was extremely necessary, as Kolin's actions in the previous weeks had made him question his leadership.
“To be clear, we're not talking about the list of community members. We're talking about our president's actions. The board was neither informed nor was its concurrence sought before our president sought to contact law enforcement,” Kumar explained. “After nearly two weeks of going to the police and not informing us, our president has yet to share the details of this communications with all of his fellow board members despite repeated requests...when you join a school board it is a board of seven and none of us has the ability to act alone. Before taking any action, the board must be provided with all relevant information and the opportunity to deliberate in a meeting open to the public. Violations can result in serious consequences for the district, our students, staff, and fellow board trustees. By your unilateral action you have violated multiple board policies, our board operating procedures, our code of ethics and our trust in you. Your actions have taken the focus off substantial matters, put more division into the community and have exposed the district to potential legal liability, in addition to unwarranted press scrutiny.”
Other trustees echoed Kumar's comments.
Kolin repeatedly asserted he was acting as a “whistleblower,” and protecting a member of the community who perceived an “imminent danger.”
“If they're in imminent danger, don't they need to go to the police, not the school board president?” asked trustee Lisa Efros. Kolin said he wouldn't answer that.
Board vice president Jennifer Matlow said after the police investigation was closed, the board asked him to share his interactions, “and you refused, and still refuse. What is the reason for that?”
“I have an expectation of privacy under the Whistleblower Act,” Kolin responded.
“Whisteblower?” questioned trustee Howard Baron.
“You keep referring to yourself as a 'whistleblower.' I don't know what you mean by that, but I do want to say that… when you receive such a thing (list) – and you've yet to say what this imminent threat is – why did you need to send it to the police? Why didn't you call 911? If it was immediate,it was immediate. If it wasn't ,you could have consulted the board for discussion,” said trustee John VanGemert.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is a federal law which protects federal employees who work for the government and report the possible existence of an activity constituting a violation of law, rules, or regulations, or mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety from retaliatory actions.
“At no point did we hear from you. We had to hear about it from frantic parents who were being investigated by police,” Kumar said.
“We received emails, phone calls, all from very concerned parents,” Baron said. He noted that the completed police report said there was no threat, “so there was no immediate threat.”
To challenges by Kolin of how they would have acted if they had been informed, all of the trustees answered they didn't know because they hadn't had the facts.
The board voted 6-1 to remove Kolin, with Kolin voting against the measure.
Matlow, as vice president, will act as acting chair of the board of trustees.
Requests for comment to Watson were declined, but a statement for the district was sent via communications director Karen Huyghe. “The Board of Education, with a majority vote, voted to remove Paul Kolin from the position of President. The Board of Education is independently elected by the community, and has a set of operating procedures that they follow, which includes Bylaw 1001 Organization and Functioning of the Board. As the administration of the district, it is our responsibility to serve our students and families and focus our attention on student learning. We remain fully committed to our incredible students and to our responsibility of providing high quality education for all students.”
Following the meeting, a group titled “Coalition 4 Common Sense,” began posting on social media with a call to action to Bloomfield Hills parents, targeting Matlow, Baron and Efros for replacement, whose terms, in addition to Kolin's, all expire in 2022.
“We are concerned parents troubled by the actions of community members blacklisting families who have a difference of opinion on county COVID policies,” the posting read. “We support optional masking and vaccines but do not feel it is appropriate to force these choices on families who may have a different view.
“Bloomfield Hills School board members Jennifer Matlow, Howard Baron and Lisa Efros are a part of a Facebook group targeting parents who disagree with them and we are committed to replacing them with fair-minded leaders.”