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Governing "by the book" is not always the best option

Just because something is done "by the book," doesn't make it right.

Take, for example, the McDuffie County Board of Education's vote last week to appoint Georgia Hobbs as the spokesperson for all seven board members.

Taking their lead from a recommendation in the A Guide to Effective Boardmanship handbook, the board appointed Mrs. Hobbs to be the point-person on dealing with the media. That's right, if a media member calls anyone on the board of education, that board member is supposed to direct the call to Mrs. Hobbs. Then, she's to gather a consensus from board members and make a comment. If a consensus can't be reached, then the other elected officials are permitted to speak their minds.

Board member Ella Mae Samuels, who helped lead the push for the appointment, assured those at the board meeting that nothing would essentially change. The appointment, she said, was nothing more than an effort to present a unified front to the community - something the board needs to do following the tumultuous last few months. She even promised to eliminate the appointment if the process doesn't work.

But that's not the point.

We have no doubt the process will "work." We've had a great working relationship with each member of the Board of Education. And we have no problem with who was appointed spokesperson: Mrs. Hobbs is a retired educator with plenty of board of education experience, who always returns calls and goes out of her way to fully answer any questions we might have.

However, there are six other elected members of the school board, and with one vote, they are essentially shielded from the media - the eyes and ears of voters in the community.

The point is actually summed up fairly well in the same book Mrs. Samuels leaned on when making the recommendation. Just a few paragraphs up from the spokesperson paragraph are these words:

"And, don't forget working with the news media. Building relationships with editorial boards and news organizations is time consuming, but well worth the effort for school districts.

Communication lines need to be open and relationships need to be built with the school district staff, the community, parents, legislators, county and city governments, community groups and more so that there is mutual trust and opportunities for information to be exchanged, not just handed out. Boards must make it a priority to lead by example with a culture of transparency and openness. Information that is appropriate to share should be readily available."

Leading by example should not include limiting access to elected officials.

That sets a terrible precedent - and helps perpetuate an even worse perception.

Web posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007

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