Monday, June 19, 2006

'Give Us the Money and Shut Up'

Local governments are, in many ways, more out of control than the state government. Here's a little taste from my neck of the woods.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

They were warned: no personal attacks and keep the comments respectful.

But after frustrated members of the Groveport Madison school community continued to criticize and complain about the district's leaders and their decisions, board President June Gibbs had had enough.

Last month, she declared public comment off limits for the next three months, saying residents would have to wait until the first September meeting to address the board. To reinforce the decision, two police officers who aren't typically at the meetings stood at the back of the Madison Township Community Center on Wednesday to monitor the crowd.

Board member Teresa Burch told the audience why she supported Gibbs' decision.

"I've requested a little time to back off because it has gotten out of hand," Burch told a standing-room-only crowd at the meeting, the first since former Superintendent Timm Mackley announced his retirement. "I don't have the stamina of taking the shots."

School boards traditionally reserve time during their monthly meetings for parents, students and other community members to weigh in on the agenda or issues within the district. But when the discussion becomes unproductive, school boards can limit or eliminate public discussion, said Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association.

"The boards need to run their meetings effectively and efficiently," Ebright said. "It's a public meeting, but it's not the public's meeting."

In a government of, by and for the people, I fail to see the difference, Mr. Ebright. I fully support keeping meetings under control and avoiding impolite language, but to set oneself above the people in this way is outrageous.

At least one member of the board gets it:

Groveport Madison board Vice President Naomi Sealey understands the concerns of her fellow board members but said the district can't afford to alienate the public, especially with a potential $4.5 million shortfall if an emergency operating levy planned for the November ballot fails.

"I think it's terrible and kind of disrespectful to say to them that they can't comment and then turn around in November and ask for their funds," she said.

The local TEL was needed and necessary as a check on abusive government and to defend the rights of Ohio citizens to keep the fruits of their labors.

And school boards wonder why their levies lose so often.

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