Time to stop the revolving door of directors

Friday, February 11, 2011

A couple of things are still happening that challenge our democracy where we live and breathe.

This winter, these bitters are at a crossroads with public schools, a hallmark of Americans' constantly rocking cradle to nurture our noble experiment.

One is the recurrence of bickering over management of Marshall County schools. Like others, ours are blessed with dedicated educators.

Having seen elected school superintendents rule wisely and others manage foolishly, it's clear - elected superintendents make better leaders because they have a constituency that's a majority of countywide voters, something school board members don't have. Both have a term of office - a natural term limitation if their leadership fails, as well as time to do what they feel is best.

Marshall County seems to be rough riding its third hired director of schools in only a few years. It's happened in allegedly sophisticated places like Williamson County. Contracts are bought out. Another search begins.

Nationally, school systems hire roaming professional directors who negotiate a contract, do a job and, too frequently, leave with a severance package.

City management might be seen the same way, but City Hall isn't saddled with county commissioners' budgetary controls.

Applicants for the open seat on Marshall's school board offer themselves to stop the "bickering." That substantiates the point. Directors need their own power, instead of a constituency of nine people.

Meanwhile, during the annual recognition of Tennessee's open records law and the law requiring public decisions, there's a spate of chicanery. It's as amusing as the vaudeville joke punch line: "You can, but you may not." Some realize they might get away with something, but realize it's a bad idea. Others don't know the difference.

It's legal to rewrite one public record into another, omit elected leaders names' and serve it up for discussion. But, what's the reaction when the green curtain is pulled aside and sunlight shines in to reveal the lever-pulling Oz trying to serve a front man's reluctance to be seen as taking a stand?

It's not just here. In Maury County, the county commission chairman visited a public school and was later told he should give two days' notice before dropping by. A Chapel Hill panel couldn't get a quorum. Mobile phone calls got two absentees on speakerphones for their votes. Similarly, the state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board lacked a quorum, so calls were made. Pretty soon, a decision was reached to delay a decision on Cedar Ridge Landfill.

Push and pull for control, or, to proceed with business, push the envelope. With a wink and a nod at an open meeting, they might be helpful to constituents.

But, hiding behind smoke and mirrors reflects a reluctance to lead publicly and implies a preference to control privately.

Publicly grading directors is a good idea. A better idea - elect school superintendents like the school board.

The fly in the ointment is we must get state lawmakers to change the system again.

But, hey, change is good and they're in session.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.