Don’t Second Guess Voters

This ran in The Daily Post as an op ed piece on January 14, 2015. It was written by Tom Quiggle, Seth Rosenblatt and me. I am including it in my blog because it makes a number of points about governance, and relationships between elected officials, that are important. What you are reading here was scanned-and-OCRd from the printed version (the Post is not available online). You can view or download the full-scale scanned image by clicking on the image below.

Daily Post
Wednesday, January 14. 2015

School board wrong to snub Du Bois

BY TOM QUIGGLE, SETH ROSENBLATT and MARK OLBERT

The Jan. 6 article in the Post about how the Sequoia Union High School District board of trustees once again snubbed Carrie Du Bois raised a number of disturbing issues.

It’s quite clear Du Bois’ colleagues don’t agree with many of her views on education or the district’s strategic direction. While that’s not uncommon for an elected body, what’s concerning is this board’s belief that they are the custodians of competence.

Competency issue

Olivia Martinez was quoted as asking, rhetorically, “Why should the board elect (as president) someone who isn’t equally as competent, that ‘doesn’t represent the district, with the possibility of abuse in the office, and can cause more problems and keep the district from moving forward?'”

What Martinez ignores is the fact that the voters determine who is competent to sit on their governing bodies, not the other elected officials. Voters choose people to represent viewpoints and visions they want included in the public decision-making process. The fact that Martinez and her colleagues may disagree with those choices is irrelevant.

Counterproductive

This is not to say the board acted unlawfully in skipping over Du Bois. They are free to elect whomever they wish as their officers. The real problem is not the choice they made, but the counterproductive attitude that apparently underlies it. Elected officials have a duty to respect the viewpoints of all their colleagues however divergent it is from theirs, because it expresses part of the will of the people they are sworn to serve.

Board member Alan Sarver recognizes that most elected bodies rotate their leadership positions, and in fact most school boards and city councils in San Mateo County have a long history of following this practice. There’s a practical reason for that: it avoids creating trivial issues that unnecessarily detract from serving the public. There is little power entrusted to the president — he or she cannot unilaterally set the agenda and still has the same single vote as any other board member. Passing over Du Bois accomplishes nothing other than to degrade working relationships and make the board look petty in the eyes of the community.

The wrong message

Whatever their personal differences, the public is best served when elected officials work together to improve public life. In failing to model this behavior, the board is sending a message that dissent is unacceptable, and only the majority view matters. Besides being bad for the community, that’s the wrong lesson to teach students.

We have served with Du Bois as board members overseeing the education of children. Whatever differences we may have occasionally had with her, there was no doubt she was 100% committed to improving the lives of young people. Few school board members spend as much time learning about issues at schools, speaking with educators and experts in the field, and supporting underserved children. When she was president of the San Carlos School District board, she ran the meetings smoothly and ensured that everyone’s issues were addressed however she personally felt about them. The idea she might abuse a leadership office is laughable.

The Sequoia trustees should remember they govern on behalf of the community, not themselves. They should treat each other with respect, and not second-guess the will of the people.

Tom Quiggle and Mark Olbert are former San Carlos School District board members, while Seth Rosenblatt is now serving on that board. Olbert also currently serves on the San Carlos City Council. The views expressed in this guest opinion do not necessarily reflect those of the San Carlos School District, the city of San Carlos or their respective governing bodies.

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