Seattle schools decorum at the board meetings has deteriorated to the point
of damaging democracy
September 23, 2005
Another smart idea bites the dust
The Seattle School Board must not allow itself to be tyrannized by a vocal
Board members astutely assessed a nagging problem: caustic public meetings
that lasted hours and resolved little. They came up with a solution: Confine
public comment at meetings to the business at hand.
But the board caved in the face of outrage from the very group of citizens it
had hoped to tame. The change in public-meetings structure was proposed by
board member Darlene Flynn, a supporter if there ever was one of citizens'
right to vocal dissent. But even Flynn could see that over time, decorum at the
board meetings has de-teriorated to the point of damaging democracy.
Board critics use the public portion of the meeting to express anger, launch
personal attacks and even sing jingles with insulting lyrics.
No democratic institution representing citizens should be subject to the whims
of a mob. The board has tabled action until its Oct. 5 meeting. It shouldn't let
go of this issue. It doesn't serve the public well by fleeing from the hard
decisions. The twice-monthly public meetings must be redesigned to engender
more meaningful dialogue and to get some real work done.
Restricting dialogue at the meetings doesn't squelch public debate. On the
contrary, public debate would be increased because the board has added a
monthly community meeting to its schedule, beginning next Wednesday.
All board members have publicly listed phones in their homes installed by the
district. All have publicly listed e-mail addresses. Some board members — for
example, Mary Bass — host regular meetings within their districts. And long
before an issue comes to the board for a vote, public work sessions and
committee meetings have been held and the information placed on the
district's Web site.
In the turbulence that followed the resignation of former Superintendent
Joseph Olchefske, some of those currently on the board encouraged citizens
to express their outrage in as loud and unseemly a manner as possible. Now
those board members must confront the monster they helped create.