Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Letter: Columnist makes false statements about Piper School Board scandal

April 10, 2002

To the Editor:

Clausie Smith's column in The Chieftain is usually harmless. Last week, it was not. Mr. Smith made assertions about the lessons we should learn from the "Piper plagiarism debacle." He led us to believe that the Piper School Board had gotten into trouble by overriding an administrative decision made by their Superintendent. According to the Kansas City Star, he was wrong. Do common journalistic standards require fact verification by columnists, or does that only apply to cub reporters?

The anti-reform faction in Bonner Springs has learned a new word: micromanagement. First, they tried to falsely apply it to the Bonner Springs City Council. Now, Clausie Smith is attaching that label to the misdeeds of the Piper School Board, possibly trying to rub some of their guilt off on our City Council by labeling both the same.

By law, city councils are responsible for assuring that city managers are adequately and properly performing their duties. They are given authority to demand information sufficient to substantiate that judgment. Asking for management information, questioning practices, and setting policies is not micromanaging. It is a duty. That duty can only be neglected if the public will tolerate such neglect.

What the Piper School Board did was not micromanagement either. It was mismanagement. Evidently, Piper's school board met behind closed doors, discussed an ill-considered plan suggested by a hired administrator, and then failed to either reaffirm or revise their policy even though they were aware that the Superintendent's plan violated established Board policy. Without clear policy direction, the Superintendent was left to set his own course, with disastrous results.

The bottom line is that the Board failed to adequately superintend the Superintendent. In the process, they violated the open meetings law, undermined their faculty, betrayed the public trust, and impaired the welfare of their students.

Clausie Smith says that the District Attorney is "simply vindictive" for filing a civil complaint against those board members. He says "the same is true for the parents who want to have a recall election for the board members." He believes that the individual board members should not be punished, even though they violated the open meetings law. It seems to him that "the primary blame belongs to the small number of students who did not follow the rules." Nonsense.

The plagiarism itself merely revealed some lingering underdevelopment of the intellectual and ethical strength of a few school children. The Board performance revealed intellectual and/or ethical deficiencies in mature elected officials. There is a profound difference.

The open meetings law is a fundamental part of democratic government. The Piper School Board admitted "unintentionally" violating it. The only way I can imagine that public officials could unintentionally violate the open meetings law is for those officials to have so little regard for that law that they do not bother to study how it regulates their conduct. Open government has been an issue in various Wyandotte County municipalities for a long time. I commend District Attorney Tomasic for protecting the public interest.

The Piper plagiarism fiasco is just another manifestation of a chronic failing in our local culture: we have not held our elected officials to high enough standards. First, we need to raise those standards. Then, we need to elect officials who would be too embarrassed to accept the old standards, but will be proud to serve with much higher ones.

Henry Chamberlain

Bonner Springs

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