When Mark Stegeman attended last week's Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting by phone, no announcement was made that the two-term school board member was calling in from Ann Arbor, Michigan or that he was there on sabbatical.
According to TUSD board president Adelita Grijalva, she knew the number provided to call Stegeman was a Michigan number, but she was never told directly by her fellow board member that he would be out of state on and off for the next three months.
"It's unfortunate we haven't had much information at all," Grijalva says.
Although, she confirmed it isn't unusual for some board members to be placed on speaker phone when they are unable to physically attend a board, using her own experience as an example when she was on maternity leave with the birth of her last child. Grijalva did say that TUSD governing board director of staff services Mary Alice Wallace did communicate Stegeman would not be physically present at several meetings and that impact would be minimal.
Stegeman told the Tucson Weekly he's on a semester-long research sabbatical at the University of Michigan.
"I will miss only three board meetings and will attend those by phone. Most of the business of the board occurs by phone and email, and I don't think my phone participation at last Tuesday's meeting affected any of the outcomes. I will be present at next Tuesday's meeting," Stegeman wrote in an email.
On a UM web page, Stegeman is listed as a visiting scholar. Stegeman says he'll be there through early December until the end of UM's term.
"It is a pure research sabbatical; I am not teaching here," Stegeman wrote. "My office here is much bigger than my office at Eller!"
Stegeman, a UA associate professor of economics, wrote that it's routine for tenured faculty to take a sabbatical. He continues to collect his salary from the UA and "am also receiving a small amount of compensation from UM."
"I have a coauthor at UM, (Professor) Paul Rhode, and we are working on several new projects together. UM's Economics department is also a good place to spend time generally, as it has long been one of the top 15 Econ. Depts. in the U.S."
Stegeman wrote that the TUSD administration was made aware of the sabbatical and not many accommodations have had to be made. This is the first time, he says, that he's exercised his privilege to not attend the meetings in person and call-in to participate.
And anyone concerned he's not able to perform his duties as an elected official - rest easy, he says.
"I am in contact with all the stakeholders and district personnel that I am normally in contact with. Most business of the board happens electronically and that does not change; we now live in a world where many people do their entire jobs from a remote location," Stegeman wrote.
Wallace told the Weekly she's expecting Stegeman to be at the next TUSD meeting and there isn't a limit on being physically present.
According to TUSD's own board policy, board members are expected to attend all board meetings "insofar as possible."
Board policy is also clear in that if board members are unable to be present in person, they may participate by phone for public meetings, as well as executive session.
Ricardo Hernandez, Pima County Superintendent of Schools chief financial officer, referred the Weekly to an Arizona statute on public officers and employees, elected officials who are absent from the state for more than three consecutive months must have permission from the Legislature.
Without permission and if longer than three months, Hernandez says that could be an issue that could be referred to the Pima County Attorney's office for further clarification.
In Stegeman's case, however, the school board member is in Michigan for just about three months, and he'll be in Tucson on occasion and participating by phone during meetings he's unable to attend.
"Last Tuesday's board meeting was the first that I did not attend personally, through close to five years on the board," Stegeman wrote. "I have never missed a single vote taken during any meeting as my tenure as board member and expect that to continue. You may wish to point out that not all sitting board members can say that."