The Stand with Standing Rock benefit concert held Friday evening at the John and Dori Brown Performing Arts Center at Rhinelander High School drew an objection from at least one area resident. That person complained to school board member David Holperin, who questioned why superintendent Kelli Jacobi authorized the concert without the school board's approval.
Because of Holperin's question, a special board meeting was called Thursday afternoon to address the matter.
"I received a call Monday night from a constituent who expressed a concern that the school district was going to be allowing its facilities to be used for something that was very political and potentially divisive in nature," Holperin said. "And, of course, it caught me by surprise because I did not know about the concert and I did not know about the nature of the concert, but I said I would look into it."
Holperin said he learned that other members of the board were also contacted "by potentially more than one person." So he checked district policies to determine who may authorize such an event.
"There is very clear and concise language in the policy that this issue has to come before the board and it has to be approved by the board," Holperin said.
He then made a motion that the board either approve or disapprove the event "with a basis of foundation."
Board vice president Judy Conlin seconded the motion to allow discussion to continue. When board treasurer Mike Roberts asked for a clarification, Holperin said the motion was on the question of whether the board should make the decision.
He noted a second motion would be needed to approve the concert itself.
At that point, Conlin withdrew her second. The motion then failed to get a second after board president Ron Counter asked three times.
Counter then moved for the board to support Jacobi's decision to approve the request to use the performing arts center for the concert. Merlin Van Buren seconded that motion.
Counter then presented the two board policies that pertain to the use of school facilities and relations with non-school affiliated groups. Under the first policy, use of school property for "commercial gain, for personal benefit, for political or partisan meetings or events not sponsored by an organization from within the district" requires board approval.
The second policy, however, states that district facilities can not be used "for advertising or promoting the interests of any non-school related agency or organization, public or private, without the approval of the board or its designated representative." In the past, the superintendent has been considered a designated representative.
Counter explained that the policies were created to standardize both the procedure for the use of facilities as well as the fees charged to users to prevent unevenness of approval and disapproval of requests.
"(In the past) some people were getting approval, some were not," Counter explained.
Dr. Paco Fralick and Scott Kirby, two of the organizers of the concert, were in attendance at the meeting and answered questions from the board. Both are Rhinelander residents and graduates of Rhinelander High School. Fralick said he had already paid the fee for the event, which was $60 an hour for custodial services and use of the auditorium for the show, plus set-up and tear-down time.
"Dr. Fralick also has a certificate of liability," Counter said. "Which is also contained in board policy."
Fralick said the concert was to be a fundraiser for the group Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the water and stopping the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
"Honor the Earth is a political activist group, correct?" Holperin asked. "No," Fralick replied. "Can you explain what they do, then?" Holperin asked.
"It's kind of in the name," Fralick replied. "They honor the Earth. They want to protect the planet we live on, and their efforts and resources go toward that. When certain things threaten our very existence as human beings who live and thrive on this planet, we oppose them."
"That's not political, that is a celebration of life," Kirby added.
"When it comes to the use of school facilities, there's no question that there is controversy involved with the subject matter," Conlin interjected. "But I don't think the word controversial is interchangeable with political."
Roberts questioned whether the board should be put in a position to debate a controversial matter. He also raised a concern that if the request to hold the concert was denied, the board would leave itself open to charges it was infringing on First Amendment rights. Holperin, Roberts and other board members then argued both sides of the latter concern after Counter read off a list of all the groups that use district facilities.
The list included churches and religious organizations.
Roberts also pointed out that the two policies that were cited do not agree. He suggested that one or both be reworked at a later date to bring them into agreement.
"Our policies were written to keep us out of trouble," Conlin said. "And if we start to interject our own personal biases, I think we're putting ourselves in a position to get ourselves into trouble."
The board then voted 7-1 to support Jacobi's decision to allow the concert, with board member Dennis O'Brien absent. Holperin cast the lone dissenting vote.
Jacobi said the citizen who voiced concern about the concert was invited to attend the board meeting but was not present.
"I don't think there was more than one person," she said.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at jtaylor @lakelandtimes.com.
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