If a tree falls in the forest ... be heard
Sunday, June 29, 2014 1:03 AM
As many of you read in Saturday’s edition, Brad Thompson has stepped down from his District 50 school board seat. He had to. Brad moved from one neighborhood and into another, and school board seats are geographically assigned. Board members are much like council members in that they are not elected at-large. Such an arrangement makes sense, you have to suppose, because it gives greater assurance that representation will be widespread and equally distributed.
Brad just so happens to have been my school board member. Sure, all the board members represent everyone residing within the school district, but geographically speaking as it relates to elections, Brad was my board member. I’ve had occasion to speak with him in the short time he has served, most particularly when he came to the newspaper to share information -- and his frustration -- about the district’s budget. He had concerns and questions, which he brought to the attention of district administrators and his fellow board members. When he thought he was not getting answers or, worse, was being ignored, Brad came to the paper. Just another person with an ax to grind, right? Someone who isn’t getting his way, so he goes to the newspaper to stir things up and in the end make a name for himself, right?
ADMITTEDLY, THAT WAS THE INITIAL thought that crossed my mind. Trust me, having been in the newspaper business since 1980, I’ve seen my share of specialty cases, including the single-issue candidate who just wants to raise Hell and inflict retribution for a perceived wrong -- and we’ve had some of those here. But Brad came across as a reasonable guy, not someone who wanted to just light a stick of dynamite and have the newspaper throw it. He is reasonable and thoughtful. His care and concern for the district was and is nothing short of sincere.
Sure, he might get a little hot, perhaps too hot for some who think he should, to use a harsh Southern term, know and stay in his place. Then again, maybe if he had been treated as a board member should, he would not have gotten hot and bothered. Maybe he would not have come to the newspaper in a last-ditch effort to get his questions heard and answered. School board members are elected to serve and represent the taxpayers who finance the school district and whose children attend the schools. That should mean they have some say-so in district policy, in how and where money will be spent in the budget, what school curriculum will include and a few other responsibilities. In fact, although it doesn’t seem so at times, the school administration is supposed to report to the school board. Not vice-versa.
There’s an irony about Brad’s resignation. He works in the family’s forestry business, essentially helping people with tree farming. Yet, so often in his short time on the District 50 school board, the guy not only couldn’t see the forest for the trees, the trees themselves were kept from his view.
I DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHO might eventually file to run for Brad’s seat, but I know it won’t be me. For one thing, while I realize some people have successfully sought elected office as a lucrative career choice, but the school board pay is abysmal. For another, the fact is that serving in any elected office would constitute a conflict of interest (for ethical journalists, that is).
That said, I have a few suggestions for anyone who decides to run.
-- Make it your business to know the business of the board and the district office.
-- Ask questions of the administration. Be polite, certainly, and give ample time in which to get a response. When and if that fails, remind the administration who gets the final vote on its contracts.
-- With all the IT equipment available to the district, insist that all board meetings be broadcast live on the web. And archived for future viewing and listening.
-- Insist that the entire district budget, line item by line item, be posted on the district website, even while in its early stages of being crafted before final approval. Hey, it’s a work in progress and people know that. Why not let them have safe access to the construction site?
If any candidates would like to discuss more possible campaign platforms, my door is open. Heck, I’m easier to reach than some at the district office.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email email@example.com ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.