Palo Alto school Superintendent Max McGee is now backing away from a plan he was trumpeting months ago and which the school board already approved 4-1 in June.
Saying he was "disheartened" by a discussion at last week's board meeting, McGee says he's giving up on hiring an inside general counsel for now, after he and the board have spent hours on the subject and candidates have been recruited.
The only thing that was "disheartening" at last week's meeting was board member Camille Townsend's obstructionist behavior and President Melissa Baten Caswell's inability to control the discussion, which never should have been on the agenda in the first place.
Townsend had been the only board member opposed to McGee's proposal to hire an in-house legal counsel. Now she is attempting to subvert the rest of the board by throwing up the same objections she raised four months ago. Worse, she seems to have succeeded in getting McGee to give up out of frustration.
Showing the same indecision and lack of resolve he did with the zero-period debate earlier in the year, McGee made the mistake of granting Townsend's request to have the board discuss the position again, this time to revisit whether the new general counsel would report to him only, or to him with a "dotted line" to the board.
The discussion served no purpose anyway since both state law and the board's own policies spell out clearly that the school board, as the client, must appoint and evaluate its legal counsel, whether legal services are provided by outside law firms or by inside counsel. Policies also state that board members must go through the superintendent when desiring information from legal counsel.
Back in June, McGee told the board that his leadership team and school administrators supported hiring an inside counsel and could see plenty of benefits to being able to consult quickly with an attorney. He also pointed out the advantages of having counsel present at school board meetings to provide immediate guidance on legal or compliance matters, and of saving money by reducing the use of outside attorneys. The board acted.
It is not McGee's place to unilaterally undo a previous decision of the board, nor is it right for a single dissenting board member to obstruct implementation of a decision already made.
With the district's outside law firms badly underperforming, McGee should show increased resolve to get this position filled, not retreat because he is "disheartened" by the behavior of his own board.