April 27, 2009
MP3 here (best to right click and download to your computer to listen)
and a commentary
I had not been to a “Meet the Candidates” forum for school board candidates before. I am not a fan of the style in which this one was held. Let me say first that I believe that when people want to be elected or reelected, they are the ones to be questioned, to be held up to a vigorous debate in which their choices, their decisions, and their positions on issues that will impact the general public and the school system are to be questioned and expected to be answered, whether satisfactorily or not. The people who we elect to office… yes… elect… are the ones that need to prove they are deserving of the opportunity to serve the public, particularly when they will be responsible for how our taxes our spent, and, in the case of education, how young minds will be educated. For that reason, every single candidate needs to be open to, defend and inform any citizen who asks any question, so that those who may not be the best can be examined and their answers thoughtfully considered. In other words, plenty of respect but no coddling. One of the elements of this event was to have the candidates ask questions of the audience;; while that was nice, was this really a coffee clatch meeting? Having the forum be rather along the lines of “Let’s Meet the Coach with Donuts” with warm fuzzy, pre-scripted questions does not serve the voting public.
The “Meet the Candidates” seating arrangement assumed few people would show up to listen, as the tables used were arranged in a square, rather than a face-off.
Other meetings I have attended at the Citizens Center (and other venues) have the traditional seating of the candidates at the front, perhaps on stage or speaking at a podium, with the audience facing and able to ask questions freely and without restriction. (I use as an example, the excellent Meet the Candidates forum for City officials that was held a year or two ago in the High School auditorium. The moderator was Dr Condi, the candidates sat on the stage, and Dr Condi both asked the questions which were written to each candidate as well as take open questions from the audience. From a technical perspective, having people speak into microphones, both from the stage and with questions, aids immensely with proper sound control.
I also was puzzled by the use of writing questions on flip-board white paper.
Before the meeting began, one of the teachers hosting this event solicited questions. The questions were then written on a large piece of paper which was held up before the small audience. Was the intent because people’s failing memories would not allow them to remember the question after it was spoken? I was reminded of conferences I’ve attended before in which those types of charts are used to facilitate brainstorming-but this was not a brainstorming session… or was it intended, rather, to be that?
One disturbing element of the event was that the questions were censored if Mr. Rotan did not approve. I was not aware that he was in charge of the event-apparently so. I had seen the art teacher,Randy Haney, solicit questions before the event, writing them down on the flip chart paper, and at least one attendee approach. Then I saw Mr. Rotan go back to the back, and then saw that same attendee conferring with the art teacher. I didn’t think much about it until after the meeting was over, when it came out that the questions were pre-screened and censored, with Mr. Rotan giving ultimate approval over any questions that might, in the opinion of he or the art teacher, be inappropriate.
Also note that the email that went out concerning this forum, from Mr Haney, included no indication that any censorship would go on.
Please remember to make time to attend tonight's Candidates Forum to be held at the Citizens Center just off the square, starting at 5:00 this evening.
The questions and responses in the newspaper were a good start, but please consider attending so that you can ask YOUR questions and hear what the candidates have to say in response, and also to listen to questions the candidates may have for those who attend. Refreshments will be served starting at 5:00 p.m. The discussion will end by 6:45 p.m.
YOUR questions. Unless we don't like them.
I have serious reservations with events in which the questions are staged, censored and pre-screened. President Bush did that quite often with his canned public meetings that not only quite often prevented those with opposing viewpoints from attending but arranged what would be said and who would say it.. all in order to provide a pleasant, faux public relations opportunity rather than be part of a vibrant democratic process. In my view, it is the job of the moderator(s) of the event, not to prevent anyone from asking a question, but stepping in if the question seems inappropriate (or allowing the person questioned to demur) or a person takes too long, or the temperature of the audience becomes too heated, etc. It is *not* the job of the moderator to prevent others from asking questions, any questions they please. But that’s what happened. I find that type of censorship particularly troubling when you consider that these are educators that, one would suppose, are teaching young minds about every person’s participation in democracy.
One interesting comment was that people in general are afraid to approach the school board. “I know you’re on the school board but you can’t talk to me”. (Video clip of that comment by Dr Davis followed by the art teacher attempting to make sure that Ogletree's question was in an approved form)
Guess what! By censoring and pre-screening questions before an election for representation, those who were complicit in this are aiding in the distance created. If you don’t want to have the candidates take questions, which might show how well each can think on his or her feet, then don’t allow any questions to be asked at all.. but don’t censor the content. That’s the wrong thing to do and I seriously hope that next time there’s an event like this it is taken more seriously and done differently.