Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Poor Government Practice

As the citizenry of Shelby County, we have a right to be timely notified of government meetings and pending government actions.  In Tennessee, the so-called "sunshine laws" require that public notice of meetings be given 48 hours in advance of meetings.

It is unclear whether the Shelby County School Board 3.0 gave 48 hours notice of tonight's meeting, which will begin at 5:30.  And who knows whether they are actually required to publish their actual agenda before the meeting.  But somebody knows something.

Jason Miles, an Action News 5 reporter, knows something and tweets:

#SCS board member wants to take the "interim" out of Supt. Dorsey Hopson's title. I'll preview 2night's meeting on @actionnews5 at 5:00
Here's the link to the agenda.  I challenge you to understand what on earth "Item 1" listed as "Superintendent" means.  If you open the link, it's basically the top of a form with the word "superintendent" on it.  What does it all mean?
It means that without some insight from intrepid reporter Jason Miles, the public has no way of understanding what this meeting is really about, what proposal might be considered, and whether or not a vote will take place.  You see, this is what the Board calls a "Special Call" meeting - where the regular rules are suspended, and where a vote can take place without any public input (or public knowledge prior to the meeting of what the meeting is about) whatsoever.
The Board commissioners understand that we are no longer in an emergency, or operating under the fog of merger madness.  There is just no need for any substantive matters to be undertaken at a meeting of this kind - certainly not without fully advising the public of any proposals that may be considered, or seeking public input on those proposals.
I call Shenanigans.  The reality is that the Board has not been treating Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson as an interim superintendent.  They've already deemed him worth only $5,000 less than former (academically-credentialed, career educator) Supt. Kriner Cash.  They seem not to mind being scolded by him in public.  But abandon a national search with all of its input-seeking meetings from the community and various high-powered stakeholders with privatizing interests?  They might give all that up?  Odd.
They've already got him committed for the school year.  And yes, they should be ramping up their national search in short order - unlike last year when they waited until the last possible second to start the search after the start of the new calendar year, against the advice of their high-priced headhunters and well, everyone else.  It took them much longer, earlier this year, to abandon their national search.  It seems awfully early in this version of the national search to end it.
But to present him as The Superintendent with no public discussion, as a fait accompli?
SCS Board Chair Billy Orgel and his Board colleagues, should take the initiative to engage in government best practices, just as they expect their administators, teachers, and other employees to.  When they schedule meetings, they should make sure that people have plenty of notice about meeting dates and times.  Can't we agree that publishing a meeting scheduled to take place just after a long holiday weekend should take place sometime before the last business day before the holiday?  The School Board should also make sure that proposals and recommendations are publicly disclosed prior to the meeting, and certainly in advance of any Special Call meetings and meetings where votes may occur.  As it currently stands, not only do we not really know what the meeting is about, but we don't know if we should show up, what the issues are so that we can comment on them, or if there will be a vote.
Maybe this is how the SCS Board v. 1.0 or how the SCS Board v. 2.0 did business, but it's not how the current School Board should do business going forward.  Let the sun shine in, and let the public be engaged with its elected officials and with its school system.  We should expect better, and they should know better.