Down the closed road

Published 8:46 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

The best way for any elected body or elected official to earn—and keep—the trust and confidence of the people they serve is to be open and honest.

The cornerstone of our democracy, both nationally and locally, is an open government, “doing the people’s business” in plain view.

When citizens are well involved and fully informed about the dealings of their government, that government is best positioned to make the best decisions for the citizens. There is no other way to operate, no better way to operate.

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The citizens of Decatur County were neither involved, nor informed, over the past several months as the county’s Board of Education searched for and recruited the person to be the next superintendent of the school system.

Every meeting, other than when the board discussed the qualities and qualifications needed for an applicant to be chosen, was closed to the press and the public. No one, other than the six board members and the hired search consultants, were involved in the search.

I don’t think it is any secret that there were internal candidates, very well qualified internal candidates. And I don’t think it is a secret that those internal candidates had strong community support, and members of the community voiced that support to members of the board.

But the board chose to go in a different direction with the hire, as they have the right to do, and choose the person they felt would be the best candidate for the job. I have spoken with Fred Rayfield, the next superintendent, and he is a very personable man. I enjoyed our conversation.

I feel Rayfield will contribute much to our community in leading our schools. He is a life-long educator who has climbed the rungs of the ladder. His wife, Tresa, too, is a school system employee, working as the attendance officer and secretary at Cook Middle School in Cook County.

The issues and concerns raised about the process of this search have nothing to do with Dr. Rayfield. I have concerns about the lack of community involvement, especially when this position affects every citizen of this county. It doesn’t matter if you have no children or grandchildren in the school system, or if you have multiple, the decisions made, leadership exhibited and policies set by the superintendent affect you.

It baffles me that the board would not want to hear what the community thought. Now, during any executive search, a certain amount of discretion is necessary, that’s a given, but this entire process was discreet. Even down to the time chosen by the board to announce that Dr. Rayfield was the “one finalist,” was shrouded in secrecy.

As background, when a public body schedules a meeting, other than the regularly scheduled monthly, bi-monthly or weekly meeting, they are required to give 24 hours notice to the media. Notice was given on Monday morning for the Tuesday night meeting, the meeting where the “one finalist” was announced. No one from the public was in attendance. I’ll let you be the judge of why that night was chosen.

Although an announcement has yet to come, it is my understanding that the last official vote taken by the board to begin contract negotiations with Dr. Rayfield, with Dr. Rayfield in attendance, will also be a called meeting, on May 25, a Tuesday night. The next regularly scheduled meeting, where most of the public participation occurs, is Thursday, May 20.

The idea of having a community forum with the finalists was presented to the board by the consultants during the planning stages. The idea was flatly dismissed. This is not an uncommon practice, many districts choose to go this route, to get the input from the citizens on making the decision of who will lead the teachers teaching their children. This board decided to go a different route.

The route chosen is unfortunate, but my hope is the outcome will not be.