Saturday, April 02, 2016
School boards, city councils should not be run like businesses
Neither should a city.
Obviously, those who oversee the operation of our governmental entities have a responsibility to spend money wisely and to select the best possible people to serve as administrators, but that is as far as it goes.
The idea that a board of education or a city council should be a docile group that rubber stamps whatever its top administrator wants proved to be a nightmare for Joplin in the days, weeks, months, and years after the tornado.
What was even more harmful to this city was the group of unelected elites who are determined to bring back that method of operation to the Joplin R-8 Board of Education. For years, prior to the election of Debbie Fort, Jeff Koch, and Jennifer Martucci, the district fell victim to a board that approved everything former Superintendent C. J. Huff wanted by 7-0 votes.
And there was no one to ask the questions that needed to be asked. No one asked why teachers were leaving the district in droves. No one asked whether so much money needed to be spent to build the new schools. In fact, many of the items that deserved questioning were simply shunted aside to the consent agenda and no one paid any attention.
While the 7-0 votes were commonplace on the Board of Education, that was not the case with the Joplin City Council. While most of the time the council's votes were unanimous, when there was a difference, it became the subject of much controversy. After City Manager Mark Rohr was fired by a 5-4 vote, there was much talk stirred by those who supported Rohr of a "voting bloc" that was damaging the city.
The Joplin Progress Committee, those who thought their opinions were more important than the rest of the public and wanted to offer us guidance so we were not led astray by people who believe that there are times when authority needs to be questioned, poured money into candidates who could eliminate the two city council members who were up for election and had cast votes against Rohr.
No one ever explained why the side that had the majority on the city council was the voting bloc, rather than the four council members who sided with the former city manager. The difference, it would appear, is that the four council members were willing to back Rohr, and that is the type of operation these people who want everything to be run like a business prefer.
In a letter to the editor in today's Joplin Globe, Empire District Electric Company attorney Sharrock Dermott, a candidate for a three-year seat on the R-8 Board of Education, made it clear he wants the school district to be run like a business.
Our city manager and superintendent of schools are paid well to lead and advance what is best for Joplin. We must elect people that intend to support our investment in the leadership of these individuals.
Through their successes, we expect to benefit the employees they supervise and the constituents they serve. This is the formula that will attract the best qualified people to these positions, and continually build upon itself to ensure the future success of our city and schools.
In the next paragraph, Dermott writes that council and board members should not "blindly follow" these leaders and that they should be held accountable. Then Dermott makes a statement that should send a shiver down the backs of those who lived through the C. J. Huff era:
So while independent thinkers provide strength through their diversity, the boards must not develop factions. Candidates seeking to advance personal agendas within boards set a course for dysfunction.
Later, Dermott adds, "Diversity of talent and background may strengthen a group, but individual agendas distract focus from common goals."
Again, this nonsense that we should not elect anyone with an agenda.
On the contrary, we should be scared to death to elect anyone who does not have an agenda. Agendas are proof that the people who are seeking to represent us have actually given some thought to what they would like to accomplish if they are elected.
While Dermott is correct that these agendas should not stand in the way of operating a school system or a city, he is dead wrong about the agendas being the problem.
It is not the voters' job to select people who do not have an agenda. Instead, voters should select the candidates whose agendas most closely coincide with their own beliefs.
There is a major difference between the operation of the board of directors of a business and a board of education or a city council. We want our elected officials to do what is best for the school or city and sometimes they are going to have disagreements. That is not a problem; that is a signal that our system is working.
Representative government may not always look pretty, but it is far better than "business" as usual.