OPINION: Let the sunshine inCandidates pledge more public input for school board.
By: Rod Hall and Tara Volesky , Guest columnists
“You are old enough to know better!”
Those are the words my wife said to me when I said “Yes, I will run for the Mitchell school board with you.” When I thought about what she said and not what she meant, my initial reaction was “Yes, I am old enough to know better how to be a better board member. Yes, I am old enough to know that the First Amendment demands freedom of speech. And yes, freedom of speech demands openness. That is Sunshine Week.”
Mitchell resident Tara Volesky, an active participant in local government, offered her candidacy for election to the local school board. Believing that teamwork is essential in better government, I was proud that she asked me to join her in that endeavor.
Having been the first individual to have been awarded the Eagle Award after its first recipient was the South Dakota Supreme Court and to have been followed by the award being given to South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, my continued reaction is to champion openness in every way I can. Yes, I am old enough to know better.
When a person looks at the efforts of all those people interested in open government, you see it is an ongoing effort. Laws, rules and challenges continue to emerge. But progress continues on in spite of some seemingly contradictory actions.
School board members, and members of many other government bodies have gotten together and discussed issues in private. Often the public was left out of the decision-making process. So, therefore, laws have been enacted to require public notice and public participation in governmental decision making. In fact, laws and rules have been promulgated that make it unlawful or at least unethical for a quorum of any public body to meet together and even talk about the business they are charged with running without posting adequate notice.
Now let us consider the local school board. It is by law delegated the power to establish local policy. As candidates for school board election they are to represent the people that elect them. In Mitchell, South Dakota, school board members are muzzled.
Meeting a dozen or so times a year during the evening dinner hour, there is little, if any, chance for public input or, yet, far worse, for the board to discuss and create their policy.
Tara Volesky and Rod Hall propose that Mitchell Board of Education meetings be held no earlier than 7 p.m. This would allow citizens to get home from their work, eat a meal and attend some of the relatively few school board meetings. We, Volesky and Hall, as a team, further propose that after the proper legal notices have been made that the first 30 minutes be set aside to allow citizens, parents, teachers, administrators and students to vent their concerns in a civil manner.
During this 30-minute legally noted meeting, board members could ethically discuss policy in open session. It must be noted that this 30-minute session belongs to the citizens and should not be encumbered by the presence of the superintendent or business manager. It would be truly a time for community communication. Let the sunshine in. By having a regularly scheduled time set aside for the public, the quality of the discussion would be able to grow professionally. When do Mitchell school board members get to discuss policy that they are charged with developing?
Dictatorships emerge when decisions are made without public knowledge or input. In our democracy we can do better. And, yes, I am old enough to know better.
So therefore, Tara Volesky and Rod Hall, during Sunshine Week, announce their candidacies for election to the Mitchell Board of Education in the 2013 election.