The topic: The Internet and related technologies enable elected politicians and constituents to engage in conversations about public policy about that are frequent, detailed, and interactive like never before, or like nothing we've seen since pre-Revolutionary New England or the golden age of Athens. How does this improve the quality of governance and civic life? How does this harm it?
I was glancing over the Lebo Blog recently and stumbled across the entry re: public comments at school board meetings, which included a link to Jo Posti's own blog where she authored a lengthy post about what went on at the meeting in question. Interestingly, she filed the post under the tag line "Truth" and included a sentence that read, "While the discussion about how to improve public comments has ended, it is, in my opinion, an unresolved issue." I've also followed Dan Miller's posts regarding the decision to place a Lebo cop at KOHS and the subsequent reversal of that decision, presumably due to considerable public pressure.
Then I got to thinking . . . is it really good practice to have individual school board members or commissioners posting their opinions on blogs - especially after a vote/decision has been made by the body as a whole.
Let me state at the outset that I applaud any school board director or commissioner who wants to host a website to stay in touch with his/her constituents. I think that is a noble and worthwhile effort. However, blog entries (especially those coming post-board/commission action), which question or oppose the board/commission's action seem like a slippery slope to me. For example, one thing that I counsel all of the boards that I represent is the obligation to ultimately set aside one's personal opinions and acknowledge/support the decision of the board, whether you voted for it or not.
I wholeheartedly agree that during consideration of an initiative or motion, every board member who has something to say on the issue should voice his or her opinion and attempt to convince others (in good faith, of course) to see it their way. However, once the vote is cast, the board must come forth with a unified voice on the outcome. It is okay for a dissenting director or commissioner to say nothing after a vote that he/she disagrees with, but I think it is a dangerous precedent for such individuals to continue the discussion on personal blogs/websites. Frankly, I think it undermines the process to a degree and could possibly create confusion, distrust or other problems down the line.
Think for a moment if the individual board members at Heinz or PNC posted their opinions regarding decisions that were made at a board meeting. Conceivably, these personal comments could create public disclosure issues and actually impact the stock price and completely ruin the public's confidence in the process. For these reasons, you'll never see it happen.
I see myself as a shareholder in Mt. Lebanon, and I question whether these personal blogs are a good practice in the government sector.
After I wrote back to Dave that I don’t think that “shareholder/firm” is the right or best analogy here, and that in other political contexts the losing pols often air their disagreements with the outcomes and vow to continue the debate, he replied:
I think one difference between local (township) government and the legislature is access. These folks aren't doing this for a career and we all see them at the ball fields or the Giant Eagle.
I certainly see myself as a shareholder - or at least something close. Like a shareholder, I have made (and continue to make) a financial investment and I voted for certain people to lead. It doesn't seem like whining post-vote advances the ball, regardless of what side you're on. There needs to be finality. We elected these folks to lead, not whine to the populace if they lose. Otherwise, let's put everything to a referendum.
. . .I fully support politicians having websites to better communicate with constituents. My concern is simply surrounding the post-vote stomping.
I suppose I should also mention that I am concerned that these blogs may replace attendance at meetings. For example, like the police issue, I think its very bad practice to take a vote, and if the result is not what you wanted, go to the public at large and drum up support for a reversal. While I certainly agree with the reversal of the police decision (in fact, I wrote a stern email to my Commish Raja), I think the practice of working for a reversal is a slippery slope.
Labels: can we talk?