Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Capital Editorial on SBNC Process

There are parts of this editorial I agree with, but I disagree with its skewed priorities. The part I agree with is that every SBNC member should be expected to explain why they voted for the winning candidates that they did. An important part of lawmaking is not just voting but explaining those votes for the public.

The part of the editorial I find objectionable is the argument that the SBNC should discuss the candidates' qualifications in public. This is not a requirement either in the letter or the spirit of the current Open Meetings Act. In some fantasy world, maybe this would be desirable. But it's unrealistic to expect, and I'm not sure it's desirable. What is more practical and useful for democratic accountability is to ensure that SBNC members explain their votes for the winning candidates. When SBNC members publicly state a set of candidate selection principles--e.g., that their goal is to merely vet candidates--and then act otherwise, that is the type of information the Capital should call out.

In terms of priorities, the Capital should have focused on the SBNC's violations of the Open Meetings Act and its own bylaws. Instead, the Capital made it clear that it doesn't really take these laws seriously, if only because their violation is so widespread that it would be unfair to pick on any public body for violating them. But if the Capital doesn't take the law seriously, why should the SBNC?

Even the best open meeting laws are not an adequate substitute for some genuine investigative reporting, which requires real work and putting the little guy's interests first. The real failure here was not with the SBNC but with the Capital for failing to do its journalistic job.

Publication: Capital
Date: May 20, 2008
Type: Editorial

The School Board Nominating Commission - the first to convene under a new law - has forwarded six names to the governor for his consideration for two school board slots.
Although the public knows who was chosen, it is been kept in the dark about why they were chosen. That's a troubling sign for a new public body.

The board decided to meet privately to discuss the candidates, then cast its votes in a public session. At least one commissioner, representing the teachers' union, also wanted the voting behind closed doors. Arguing against that, Commissioner Matthew Tedesco said the panel should be "as translucent as possible." Yet the panel decided to keep its discussions behind closed doors to avoid giving the nominees any discomfort.

Public bodies should be transparent. That's what the commissioners promised the public at their very first meeting. And isn't a robust discussion about future school board members the public's business?

A private meeting to discuss these nominations - on the ground that this is a personnel decision - may be within the letter of the law, but has nothing to do with the law's spirit.

If you apply for an influential public office, enduring a public discussion of your qualifications - and perhaps your temperament - isn't too much to ask. Would we want a county executive or County Council member chosen behind closed doors? Why should it be any different for a school board member who will have a major voice on our children's education?

A full and open discussion keeps the public informed and assures people that a public body isn't mired in cronyism or conflicts of interest.

Openness is not always convenient or easy, but it keeps public officials honest. We doubt legislators intended to drop a cloak of secrecy around this process when they created it last year.

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