Friday, May 2, 2008

Should the Council Meddle in Our School District?

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2008 at 12:43 PM

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This week in Confederacy of Dunces, we mocked Antioch Metro Council member Duane Dominy for his resolution calling for school administrators to toil every now and then as substitute teachers. The bill, which hasn't been filed yet, would apply to all school officials above the principal level. I could see why the idea has merits: Bureaucrats can lose touch with the people and programs they're supposed to administer, though it seems like an extraordinarily meek way to address the gaping problems in our district. Sounds more like a publicity stunt to me. But here's the snarkier question we more or less asked (and answered) in the paper this week: Do we really want our council members suggesting policy at Bransford Avenue? Or do we just want them to preside over silly zoning disputes, rubber stamp the mayor's budget and pen innocuous resolutions honoring Girl Scout troops? As you might imagine, some people thought we were being too dismissive of our city's legislative body. After the jump, one council member, who doesn't want to be named but gave us permission to use the following, pens a rather thoughtful response to the editor: "I debated about writing you this email (especially considering I am potentially giving you fodder for your paper), but I have to say I was a little disappointed to read the Scene's opinion of the Metro Council in this week's "Confederacy of Dunces." Let me say that normally I am a big fan of your paper, and I'm an even bigger fan of Pith in the Wind. But as a member of the Council I was a little bit hurt by the paper's characterization of our role in city governance. Yes, some of what we do can be mundane (zoning), and some of it does not seem to be important to most people (honoring diligent Girl Scout troops). Lastly, with the exception of moving a couple of million dollars around, we more or less are a rubber-stamp for the Mayor's budget. But, in my opinion, my colleagues and I are serving our communities and our city, and, for the most part, we are doing it with great pride, honor and humility. For starters, I feel that zoning is incredibly important because we are essentially building, shaping, or in some cases protecting neighborhoods and communities (i.e. the LED sign bill or the rezoning of the Ransom School property). My role as a mediator between the property-owner and the surrounding neighborhood in zoning disputes is a large responsibility, and often times it takes great effort and a lot of time to reach a compromise that works well for everyone involved (for the record: I think we figured out a good way to regulate duplexes). I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish I had more say in the budget. But as a Councilmember I can fight the salary cuts and position rollbacks in the fire department. Perhaps I can help save the job of a much needed employee at the Historical Commission or hopefully be able to find $20,000 somewhere that could save the drug screening program for the courts (a program, by the way, that helps judges keep dangerous people off of our streets where they can commit more crimes). Not only that, but I was one of the votes that approved the Predators' lease agreement, and I also plan to support the construction of a new convention center. These two issues alone will have huge economic impact on our city as they will support businesses, create jobs and provide much needed sales tax revenues that can ultimately be channeled into our schools. Then there is the issue of combating homelessness, working to make Metro General profitable, or striving to bring about one of my goals for next year's budget: giving our firefighters and police officers property tax relief. All of these and so much more can only be done on the Council level. I applaud Councilman Dominy for attempting to make our schools better. Our schools are in "Corrective Action" status under NCLB, and the opinion of the school board is that this summer they will fall into "Restructuring I" status. Clearly we are not doing as well as we could be doing. Councilman Dominy is merely trying to be part of the solution and is offering up an idea for us to think about and discuss. I'm not saying that it is the right thing to do. I'm also not saying that as Councilmembers we should be "telling high-paid administrators how to do their jobs"; my role in education as a Councilmember is something I've mulled over ever since I got elected. But we have been elected to be a voice for our constituents and their children whom our city has been charged to educate. I believe as Councilmembers we, at the very least, should be able to offer up ideas for improving what ultimately is the largest expenditure of the budget we pass, even if the ideas are a little unorthodox. I could go on and on, but I don't want to belabor the point or take up more of your time. Please don't misinterpret this email, Liz. As I said, I am a fan of your paper, and I will continue to be. I also hope to meet you in person someday as I've gathered from your articles and blog posts that you are intelligent, thoughtful and downright hilarious. What is more, I am not saying that the Council is above reproach, beyond contestation, or is in some way an omniscient and omnipotent body that is to be revered above all else. Quite to the contrary. We are public figures, and at the same time we are human. Thus we should be subject to criticism. Perhaps someday I'll be taking a hit in your paper, and perhaps it will be well-deserved. But I am suggesting that if your paper feels the need to scrutinize us or mock some of our initiatives, at least give us a little more credit and respect for the service we provide to the city we love so much. We're certainly not in it for the money, and we don't get much thanks for a lot of what we do for our constituents. I haven't found any great fame or celebrity from being on the Council, either. But I love public service, and I respect and admire my colleagues for their service as well."

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