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The School Board's 'secrecy,' the Bush record

Reader feedback - 2.08.06 

Some would say there is no place for politics in school governance

POLITICS' PLACE

Some would say there is no place for politics in school governance. In fact, that seems to be what City Newspaper was saying in its coverage of the School Board vacancy ("Board Seat on Hold," February 1). But the School Board is an elected office, and the people of Rochester said they like it that way when they rejected candidates who favor a mayoral controlled district. State law calls upon the Democratic members of the School Board to act as a caucus to fill the vacancy left by Darryl Porter. It is by definition a political act.

There was no demand for public hearings or public caucus when City Council chose Bill Pritchard to fill the seat vacated by Nancy Griswold, when Ted O'Brien was appointed to fill the remainder of Jay Ricci's term in the CountyLej, or when Joe Morelle succeeded Molly Clifford as Democratic Party chair. The same could be said when the Republicans appointed Cheryl Dinolfo to fill the remainder of Maggie Brooks' term as CountyClerk. These appointments clearly fall into the domain of politics.

People seem to lose their heads on all matters related to the CitySchool District. They justify their claim to inside information with the argument that our schools are too important to be addressed behind closed doors. But the fact is, it is a political decision, not a government one. When the board meets to discuss this, we are meeting as a caucus and are not subject to the Open Meetings Law.

If the Committee on Open Government disagrees, executive director Bob Freeman should to try to gain access to the Democratic Party Executive Committee when next they meet. Better yet, get the transcripts of every phone call Steve Minarik ever made! Ludicrous, I know. So let's get a sense of perspective about the School Board seat, shall we?

Willa Powell, Canterbury Road, Rochester (Powell is a member of the Rochester School Board.)

OPEN PROCESS WORKS BEST

The Rochester School Board has recently enjoyed a robust give and take about filling a board vacancy. This has been a good learning experience for all concerned, and not as personally contentious as it might look to a casual onlooker.

City Newspaper did much to clarify the issue for the public by pointing out that the law requires Board President Domingo Garcia to make the selection, in the event of a board deadlock ("Board Seat on Hold," February 1). So the seat will not be on hold for long. I also appreciated, and reciprocate, Domingo's statement that no personal disrespect was intended in the exchanges.

City put the focus where it belongs, I think, by questioning the process that led to the deadlock. The unfortunate "I'll appoint who the heck I want" language underscored an attitude that gets us into trouble. Experienced public officials have a lot to offer, but can be prone to a weary "I've seen it all before" response to process issues. Yes, this decision rests with the board. But the board (or caucus) has no obligation to act in secret, and Bob Freeman (executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government) makes the case that we have no legal right to act in secret, and I would argue that it is poor judgment to do so. The process should not be open-ended, and the law assures it will not be, but it should be adequate.

Here is the problem: Filling a vacancy is the functional equivalent of an election. This board interviewed only two of eleven qualified applicants, including some very impressive people. That is not due diligence. Moreover, the board itself had less than an hour to talk about the process we would follow.

Not only do I think we had an obligation to treat everybody's offer to serve with equal dignity and appreciation, but I learned on in prior school-board service that such a process could be completed quickly and amicably. And not only did that lead to a better informed decision, but it also led to more public confidence in the decision.

The good news is that I think most of the board understands the need for us to put such a process in place for the future.

Tom Brennan, LakeviewPark, Rochester(Brennan is a newly elected member of the Rochester School Board.)

THE ANSWER TO HEALTH-CARE CRISIS

It was refreshing to have Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Rochester on January 23 hosting a forum to discuss "solutions to our health-care crisis." A panel of six people, convened at the University of Rochester, presented an array of problems and possible solutions, summed up by Senator Clinton as a need for major system changes.

During audience discussion, three successive comments --- from a local labor union leader, a businessman on the University board of trustees, and a retired academic physician (yours truly) --- all called for the same definitive, systemic change: adoption of a single-payer, universal health-insurance program, euphemistically labeled the "800 pound gorilla in the room."

Senator Clinton assured the audience that this concept would be on the table as policy-makers address system-wide solutions. It should indeed be at the head of the table --- and the familiar wolves dressed in commercial health-insurance and drug-company clothes should be kept at the door.

William H. Barker, Edgerton Street, Rochester (Barker is professor emeritus of preventive medicine and gerontology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.)

ANCIENT WISDOM

King George --- oops, I mean to say "President Bush" --- said that the FISA law requiring warrants (and providing a means for expediting them) was passed in 1978 and is old and outdated.

Perhaps someone should remind him that the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, was completed in 1787 and ratified in 1789. And it still works pretty darn good!

Frank Bellomo, Bay Village Drive, Irondequoit

BUSH HAS ABANDONED THE NATION'S NEEDY

The Oval Office was once a bastion of integrity, a shining light that people could look to and be comforted. Those days are long gone.

I sat with my mouth agape, listening to Bush's speechwriters spin glittering generalities about how he has improved the quality of life for all Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is, unless your annual average income is somewhere near the top 3 percentile in the US.

Ask a displaced GulfCoast resident, or a middle-class kid who wants to go to college. Or one of the 55 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS who rely on Medicaid for their life-saving treatment. And let's not forget the elderly, confused and disillusioned with having to choose whether to medicate or eat on any given day.

When a democratic government consciously makes a policy not to help the disadvantaged, we tread waters where our forefathers would never swim. When the Republican-led House puts its emphasis on benefiting big business, busting up organized workers and passing bills restraining benefit programs, it will ultimately eat away at the heart of America.

We've seen nothing but broken promises and misinformation from this administration. Conservative leaders in Congress have openly said that "it's time we end this moral decay of entitlement."

Both sides of the aisle need to wake up and start restoring integrity in Washington, or they will all be looking for new employment in the private sector.

OveOvermyer, East Main Street, Rochester

WRITING TO CITY

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester14607.

Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. We don't publish letters that have been sent to other media --- and we don't publish form letters generated by activist groups. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than about once every two months.

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