Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OASD Cat Fight

Before we get rolling on what may prove to be the local controversy of the holiday season -- let me just explain from where I'm coming with this:

First, I believe that local elected officials are under paid. For the expertise and time commitment we ask of city council and school board members we should be providing them with more compensation. It's currently little more than a stipend, a tip from the voters. If the voters don't like they way you work, they won't rehire you. The end.

Second, I have no expectation that local office holders win perfect attendance ribbons at the end of their terms. Many, if not most, issues that come before the council/board are routine matters that pass on unanimous votes without much debate. They do not require the attention of the full body.

More importantly, I can't begin to count the number of incredibly qualified people who should be holding office, but aren't, because of the time commitment. In my experience, it actually out paces "putting up with all the bullshit" for the number one reason why good people don't get involved in public life. Please, stay home with your kid if he gets sick or take that two week vacation in Hawaii. You deserve it. I genuinely don't care if you can't make every meeting.

I'm extremely lax about this and I'd wager that most people probably don't mind if someone skips a meeting or two either unless someone tells them that they should care.

The problem that Teresa Theil has with Monte's recent string of absences has less to do with compensation then it does with a broken promise and a personal grudge. When Monte brought up Theil's voting record in 2007 she was telling voters to care about attendance. Now that argument she made against Theil is coming back to haunt her. This is not the first time an argument made by Monte has boomeranged back against her (and I imagine if I cared enough to look further I could come up with more examples).

I get the impression that Monte's jab at Theil's voting abstentions was initially less about Theil's track record on the board than it was a means to highlight and use her occasional conflict of interest against her. When Theil informed her that her conflicts weren't really all that conflicting, Monte was forced to roll with it or back down and she chose the former. Obviously, Theil believes Monte's point was invalid, a circumstance that was likely made all the more irritating by Monte's refusal to acknowledge Theil's evidence to the contrary. If I were Theil, I'd be pretty pissed off too.

Was Theil's post mostly about a personal grudge? I'd say so. One can also accuse it of being petty, trite and a million other things, but that's what local politics is all about, folks -- in the grand scheme of things all we're working with are nickles, dimes and the feelings of our neighbors. When you create enemies at the local level, they tend to stick around for a very long time.

Be that as it may, Theil also has a valid concern about a public official. So far as I can tell she's the first person to point out that Monte hasn't been to a meeting for the last two consecutive months. I'm as lax as it comes to council/board attendance and even that made me raise an eyebrow.

Which brings us to the last aspect of this curious case: the lack of explanation. This is Accountability 101. So far as I'm concerned, if Monte doesn't show up for another board meeting ever again she's still entitled to collect her check from the OASD for the rest of her term (unless voters recalled her, of course). The money's not the important thing here -- it's about keeping up appearances. If voters can't rely on someone to explain his or her whereabouts, how are we able to trust them with the hard decisions the school board faces?

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