I, myself, try to be a good citizen. I pay my taxes. I follow the rules, for the most part, and I try to stay abreast of what’s going on in my community. To that end, I decided to “attend” a virtual school board meeting last week. I want to tell you that it was informative and enlightening. It was not. Here are a few things that I learned while trying to be a concerned citizen.
5) Time is not of the essence. The board meeting that I attended lasted a full five hours. That’s a huge time commitment to ask of any person. It is especially difficult for parents to find that kind of time on a weeknight. The board is constantly coming up with programs to improve parent engagement, but their own meetings were not welcoming to parents at all. I think we were in session for nearly four hours before we had our first break, and it was five minutes.
4) Nobody has come up with a better way to run a meeting in nearly 150 years. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. The first edition of Roberts Rules of Order was published in 1876. We had a copy of the handbook in my house growing up. Both my parents were union representatives, so I learned the procedure for crafting an agenda and parliamentary procedure early in life. I’m a fan of the rules. I think they are helpful tool in controlling the discussion, but that they haven’t
3). Some of our representatives do not represent us very well. The main thing I learned at this meeting is that there was one member of the board that I just didn’t like. Apparently she’s been involved in school board politics for a long time, and many district employees and community activists are aware of her antics. She was instrumental in a couple of board decisions that turned out to be disastrous for the district, and she still managed to be reelected. I’m pretty sure this happens in every area of government. People can be ineffective, or worst, be effective in ways that are terrible for their constituents and still get enough votes to retain their positions. There are no term limits for most elected officials.
2) Service is a sacrifice. I know I have mentioned this before, but the meeting was five full hours. Our board has several retired district employees, and as the hours crept on, a few of them looked like they would keel over at any second. When the meeting finally did end, it was after 10:00, which was past my bedtime. We took two breaks, and the first one was literally 5 minutes! These public servants took time away from their own families, and whatever else they might have been doing to work for free on behalf of the children of this school district. Five hours of parliamentary procedure, and listening to people like me complain about all the things they are doing wrong ought to at least get you a couple of dollars…but nope! Service is often a thankless job. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
1) Clerks are the super-heroes of every committee. I watched this poor woman take attendance, and keep track of the votes. I didn’t see her roll her eyes when my least favorite member spoke out of turn. She didn’t chime in when I know she had an opinion about the topic being discussed. And God bless her, she even laughed when she looked at the clock and saw how late it was. It was her sweet voice encouraging members of the staff, telling them to hang in there because the meeting was almost over. I wanted to be her friend after this meeting…and that’s saying a lot because I don’t have many friends.
Thomas Jefferson said that our democracy is dependent on an informed electorate. I believe that our greatest civic duty is two-fold:
1) be informed about what our government is doing
2)make our agreement or dissension abundantly clear.
I can think of no greater example of how to do those two things well than Dr. King. But he took it one step further in trying do something about it. That is what good citizens do. Let’s all trying to be good citizens.