David Franklin, a frequent commenter on Blog-Lebo, sent us his thoughts on the rumors about censuring Mr. Fraasch for having shared his report with the community. Joe and I thought Mr. Franklin’s words deserved a spot on the front page. What follows, then, is Mr. Franklin’s essay. —Tom
I’ve heard that there have been letters submitted to the Board asking that Mr. Fraasch be removed from his Board seat or at least censured for circulating his thoughts about the high school project. Good grief, you’d think that he was arguing for something far worse than simply tighter controls on our school district’s wallet. Lest anyone contend that I am playing favorites here, I know Mr. Fraasch (I met him for the first time last month) but we’ve only talked in person once. We have exchanged emails (generally when he responds to mine to the School Board at large). I don’t agree with Mr. Fraasch on every issue, and I would concur that his comments to certain media outlets were perhaps poorly chosen and not well-suited to advance his ultimate position. I do, however, admire his courage for supporting what many believe to be an unpopular opinion. That’s a tough thing to do here in Camelot. So, please understand that I am not writing this post as his friend or even as an advocate for his position on the high school project.
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s look at what he’s really done and said. For all intents and purposes, all that Mr. Fraasch has done to earn the ire of so many is take the finance director’s 4-year budget projections and some other readily available publicly-generated data and distribute it among the community with a message that essentially says, “Hey, take a look at these projections and figures. Some are pretty scary when read in the context of the decision to build a new high school.” I repeat, these statistics were NOT generated by Mr. Fraasch. He did not concoct these figures in an attempt to defraud or deceive. Similarly, Mr. Fraasch has NOT said that the project should stop, nor has he advocated that the high school project is a waste at any price. In fact, Mr. Fraasch HAS gone on record as stating that he would firmly support a project in the $75 million price range. Interestingly, Mr. Fraasch’s “commitment” came shortly after others on the Board also advocated for spending considerably less than $113 million. Some of his colleagues even advocated for a project cost CLOSER to Mr. Fraasch’s number than the number they ultimately approved as the maximum spend. From where I sit, Mr. Fraasch may not be on the same page as his colleagues on the Board, but he’s at least in the same chapter.
So if it wasn’t the substance of his message that was “wrong”, let’s consider the means by which he delivered it. Many residents received his “white paper” via email. Others may have read it on his blog. And still others heard or saw his comments on KDKA radio and TV. I would be concerned if Mr. Fraasch had elected to remain quiet in all prior Board meetings and then resorted to this sort of “off the record activity”; but clearly this isn’t the case. Mr. Fraasch is on record, perhaps more so than any other Board member, with regard to his thoughts and opinions on this project. Further, unsolicited emails from board members are nothing new. I’ve received them from other Board members and even the spouses and parents of elected officials. Similarly, at least one other Board member and two Commissioners currently host personal blogs on which they post updates, position statements, etc. (Ironically, I previously argued on this site that allowing our elected officials to blog on the side is a potentially dangerous and slippery slope. At that time, I was told I was nuts and that the benefits of communication far outweigh any risk of miscommunication. Hmmm). And just yesterday, Mr. Kubit used the District’s own website to post some persuasive information to support the position of the Board majority. So again, it would appear that Mr. Fraasch’s methods are not unique and, in fact, they are utilized by others in Mt. Lebanon who hold elected office.
Lastly, while Mr. Fraasch’s opinions are certainly contrary to the majority of the Board, I’m not convinced that they aren’t shared by a majority of the residents in our community. School Board members don’t take an oath to represent the School Board. They take an oath to represent the residents of Mt. Lebanon. I think we would all agree that a referendum on a $113 million price tag for the high school would fail miserably. So, in reality, aren’t his concerns and opinions more in line with those of his constituents or at least a large percentage of them? And for that he should be censured?
I’m left to conclude that those who would censure or seek the removal of Mr. Fraasch are doing so simply because they disagree with him. I can think of no other reason. Many of you will remember that following Dr. Sable’s termination there was a cry for increased transparency on the Board. “No more hiding the ball,” we cried. “We’re entitled to know,” we shouted. The School Board campaigns that followed even focused on renewed openness and an increase in candid communication with the taxpayers. After all, this is the Great State of Mt. Lebanon! For heaven’s sake, we’re certainly educated and intelligent enough to hear the good AND the bad and decide for ourselves, right?
The irony of the current situation is not lost on me... how about you? I could go on and on regarding the representative form of government, free speech, the emperor wearing no clothes, totalitarianism and a bunch of other obvious things, but instead I’ll close by encouraging those Board members who have received such requests to do the right thing. Regardless of whether you agree with Mr. Fraasch or not, please respond to those residents and explain to them that here in Mt. Lebanon we ARE prepared to accept the good with the bad. Please let them know that you appreciate that others in the community (including other elected officials) may disagree with you, but we don’t need to bury their opinions, silence their voices, or run them out of office... or out of town. After all, the next elected official advocating an unpopular or difficult position might just be you.
Labels: censorship, censure, high school renovation, james fraasch, mt. lebanon school board