OUR VIEW: Let's find remedy for rash of secrecy

Friday, July 10, 2009

Marshall County's school board has apparently caught a virus - the penchant for secrecy displayed by two other public panels two winters ago.

Previously, the board was the shining star, interviewing candidates for director of schools in public while Lewisburg's Police Advisory Board conducted private interviews after publicly naming candidates.

The school board was also outshining the Joint Economic and Community Development Board. The JECDB wouldn't identify its finalists for executive director and interviewed them in secret. In February 2008, a court ordered the JECDB to make its candidates' names available for inspection.

Now, paradoxically, school board members have written a questionnaire to evaluate the director, had the form sent to their homes where they answered questions and then mailed their unsigned evaluations to the central office where they were tabulated.

One might argue that unsigned evaluations allow board members to be more candid. The school board chairwoman's reason for unsigned evaluations was because that's the way it's always been done.

If that's a good reason, people would still be dying of smallpox, and Marshall County people wouldn't be inoculated against disease and their children wouldn't require vaccinations before attending school.

One might also say anonymous evaluations maintain good relations, but low ratings by eight of nine board members as reported this week discount that prospect.

Still, there's hope that legal counsel from the Tennessee School Boards Association, who's advised the board previously, will be asked to diagnose this recent virus and prescribe a cure.

It's going to be the same advice the same lawyer told a neighboring school board. The evaluation forms must be signed so that the public knows how their elected leaders stand on the man the board hired about a year ago.

Members of the Williamson County Board of Education completed evaluations of their schools director, signed them and sent them to their lawyer. He summarized the evaluations and presented his report. The signed forms were placed in a three ring binder that's kept available for public inspection at the director's office.

While that gives the director an opportunity to know which board member wrote what about him, it's more important that the public can also read what their elected school board members said about the schools director.

Personnel files of teachers, policemen and other public servants are public records. Principals, sergeants and other officials' comments about those people are part of their files.

State law calls for open government. That includes school board members who campaigned to be elected to their position of public trust.

If the board's shot of sunshine has worn off, maybe it's time for another inoculation.