NEWPORT — Newly-elected Newport School Board member Bert Spaulding stormed out of his first meeting on Thursday after refusing to sign the board ethics policy, which Spaulding called an illegitimate and unwarranted document.
Spaulding, who ran unopposed for the vacant seat on the March ballot, has a documented history of conflicts and verbal clashes with Newport school officials and the board. In 2019, for example, The Argus Champion reported an exchange between Spaulding and the board that devolved into more than an hour of “shouting, accusations, and rudeness.”
Most recently, Spaulding had filed a suit against fellow board member Rhonda Callum-King in Sullivan County Superior Court to order a search emails written by Callum-King. The court dismissed the case on March 13, ruling that individuals are not required to comply with Right-to-Know requests.
On Thursday, Spaulding, in his first meeting as a board member, angrily left the meeting after approximately 20 minutes, forcing the school board to conduct the remaining meeting without him.
Spaulding had expressed a grievance over the school board ethics policy, a two-page document detailing the conduct expected of Newport School Board members, including regular attendance, working respectfully with other board members, and respecting protocol pertaining to communication, chain of command, and the board’s jurisdiction.
The policy was adopted in 2004 and is signed annually by each board member at the start of the new term.
But Spaulding said he would not follow several of the expectations, some of which he equated to a gang mentality.
In one example, Spaulding said he objected to the word “respect” that appeared in the phrase, “to work respectfully with other board members.”
“Respect is earned, not given,” Spaulding said. “You earn it from me.”
Spaulding also criticized an item that encouraged board members to stand in solidarity behind the outcomes of board votes, calling it “mob rule.”
“You’re telling me that I or anyone, as a minority [opinion], to acquiesce and then go along?” Spaulding said. “You never will silence me if my opinion on the negative side has value to me or those who will listen.”
Spaulding questioned the legal authority of the policy, claiming that it was never formally adopted by the Newport School Board nor supported by the New Hampshire constitution..
Spaulding read aloud New Hampshire RSA 189:1, the legal reference for the policy, to show that the state statute makes no reference to an ethics policy for school board members.
Newport School Board member Linda Wadensten responded that New Hampshire law pertaining to Oath of Office (RSA 92:2) requires all board members to uphold and abide by district policies, which includes this code of ethics.
“This code of ethics [also] indicates that each board member will strive to improve the public education and do all those things which you are not agreeing to do,” Wadensten said.
Spaulding then attempted to read a written document pertaining to Wadensten’s alleged actions in the past but was stopped when board members called a point of order because the topic was not on the approved agenda.
Spaulding then got up, took his jacket, and departed the room.
The board did not discuss Spaulding’s departure, though Callum-King briefly mentioned that Spaulding in previous years had stressed the importance of this ethics document.
“Every year Mr. Spaulding shows up and spends about 20 minutes going on about whether everyone signed the code of ethics,” Callum-King said. “And now he doesn’t sign it and infers that it is something new this year.”
This was the second Newport School Board meeting since the new term began but the first one attended by Spaulding. According to board members, Spaulding did not attend a scheduled meeting this week with Superintendent Brendan Minnihan and Spaulding has said he will not attend an upcoming board retreat.