Monday, September 9, 2013

Why I’m voting for Phil Hemingway

I’m voting for Phil Hemingway because not voting for Phil Hemingway was one of the mistakes I made in the last board election. Instead, I voted for candidates who seemed more amicable and politic, who Played Well With Others. What I’ve learned in two years is that people who appear to play well with others are quite capable of producing terrible policy. In fact, I think they’re even more capable of it, since “team players” are often the people least likely to ask the uncomfortable questions that sometimes need to be asked. Our current board is great at policing the “respectfulness” of members of the public (such as Hemingway) who speak at the public comment periods, and the board majority is a tremendously collegial team. As a result, they passed a long-term facilities plan that closed an elementary school in the face of clear public opposition, that allocated a hundred million dollars more than the district has access to, that probably will result in overbuilding and possibly further school closures, and that alienated a big chunk of the public whose votes would be needed to pass the bonds the plan depends on. Playing well with others is overrated.

If Hemingway had gotten ninety more votes last time, it would have been him, rather than Patti Fields, deliberating on the facilities plan, and I believe we would have seen a different, better result – even if a few people might have had their sensitivities offended by that blue-collar-ish guy who uses colorful language at board meetings. The “respectful” atmosphere that the current board has cultivated has served only to shield it from the disaffection and anger that people feel toward the board and the district. Even the alarmingly low approval rate of the Revenue Purpose Statement – 56%, less than what it would take to pass a bond – didn’t stop the board from further alienating the public by proposing a school closure that was never mentioned during the RPS campaign and that was opposed in all the public input that the board gathered. What does it take to pierce this bubble?

So yes, I’m no longer interested in electing candidates whose strength is that they seem diplomatic and collegial. I want board members who will scrutinize the information they receive, ask challenging questions, and break up the groupthink. I want board members who will push back against the administration. I want board members who can see beyond the small group that happens to have their ear. I want board members who think that fifteen million dollars is actually a lot of money. I want board members who value, and not just tolerate, public input.

Hemingway has now spent years as a board watchdog, and has accomplished as much in that role as some people have as board members. Yes, he will give people a hard time when he thinks he needs to. Sometimes he’ll be wrong, and sometimes he’ll get outvoted. A person like that is much more valuable than another nodding head. In the end, vigorous dissent and disagreement result in better policy, even if it gets a little hot in the kitchen.

It’s time to put this guy on the board.

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