Would You Like One Lump or Two?

Criticism comes with the job – any job, really; whether you’re a replacement referee in the NFL, the editor of a local newspaper or a member of a governing body, such as the Fairfield County School Board. And let’s face it: No one wakes up in the morning and sets out to do a bad job. The replacement officials in the NFL don’t suit up in the locker room and say, “OK guys, let’s get out there and see how many bad calls we can make today.” A newspaper editor doesn’t clock in and say, “Who can I tick off today?” And an elected representative doesn’t show up to every meeting thinking, “What’s the worst decision I can make for the most people today?”

In spite of all good intentions, however, sometimes that’s exactly what happens. When that becomes the rule rather than the exception, the criticism is justified; and it has to be taken like a bitter pill.

During the Sept. 18 meeting of the Fairfield County School Board, a local citizen was on hand to dispense just that sort of medicine, criticizing the Board for being poor stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. In particular, he questioned whether or not one specific Board member had returned mileage money to the District following this summer’s excursion to Atlanta, to which the Board member had driven a District-owned car instead of her own.

Anyone who has been following the antics of our local school board knows that they have never been big on adhering to their own policies. If they were, the Atlanta trip might have never taken place at all, and if it had, it certainly might have happened very differently. Board policies and Board member actions have never been what one might call ‘really close friends.’ More like ‘casual acquaintances,’ as in ‘Hey, haven’t I seen you around campus somewhere? Let’s do lunch. Call me!’

But they never do.

Thus, it came as no great shock when the proverbial ‘hit dog’ barked last week and (you guessed it) deviated from Board policy to respond to a citizen making public comment. And as if the policy infraction wasn’t bad enough, the response bordered on the preposterous.

The Board member in question scolded this private citizen, however gently, and suggested he should ‘get his facts straight’ before questioning her integrity.

True enough. Facts are valuable things to have when one is forming opinions and doling out criticism. But how is this gentleman, or any other citizen for that matter, expected to have the complete picture of a given situation when the Board has adopted an absurd policy of silence when it comes to answering questions from the media? Indeed, The Voice has asked this Board member many times about the fate of her $240 mileage check – how much of it went into the gas tank and how much was returned – to no avail. Following the Sept. 18 meeting, we asked again.

And got nothing more than a view of her backside.

If a public official doesn’t want to answer questions from the press that is entirely their prerogative. But don’t be surprised when the public wants to know why.

Since that meeting, the Board member in question has come forward and emailed The Voice, telling us that the entire $240 check was refunded to the district “several weeks ago.” And while we are still waiting to see a receipt of that transaction, the question that lingers is Why didn’t you just tell us that ‘several weeks ago’?