Public Business in the Open
Arriving at tonight’s Tiverton School Committee meeting even a few minutes before the usual time wasn’t sufficient for me to catch most of the meeting. According to the current agenda, an executive session began at 5:30, with the public meeting scheduled thereafter, and the committee is almost all the way through the scheduled topics. Luckily, I didn’t miss the planned discussion of holding NEA negotiations in the open.
To be honest, I thought there’d be more people here, for that item, but perhaps the prospect of waiting out a closed session of indeterminate duration dissuaded some folks.
I brought the video camera, although I don’t plan to tape these sorts of meetings from start to finish. The particular discussion, though, is one to which I’d like to be able to make reference later.
But it does raise an interesting new problem: Contrasted with a small audio recording device, a camcorder (plus tripod) cut a figure in the room, and while it isn’t my intent to be a hidden-camera guy, I also don’t wish to become a focal point in the room.
Consequently, I’ll have to figure out how to choose seating. The current arrangement in the high school library pretty much forces me to capture any speakers in the audience from behind.
This isn’t a complaint, but there’s an extended conversation going on about AP classes and exams. The conversation began because the trends in Tiverton aren’t the best, but the conversation has become general about the essential concept of AP. It’s more like something from a social gathering than a meeting of an elected body. Just an observation; I wouldn’t have expected the interest to be so high.
What an astonishing conversation about open contract negotiations. Some familiar faces — none of them direct NEA union members, as far as I know — came forward to argue that the school committee shouldn’t even bring up open negotiations with the union because it would start things off on the wrong foot. Put the degree of assumption aside; the committee is already in court over something about union claims that Chairman Jan Bergandy is openly declaring to be lies. The notion of good faith in these negotiations is a fantasy, a sham.
But the same people went on to argue that giving the public more information is intrinsically bad, in part because of the possibility of differing interpretations. In other words, it’s better to allow participants in closed-door discussions to tell the public what their interpretation is than to let we dolts in the electorate decide for ourselves.
The kicker was when school committee member Carol Herrmann argued that if Mr. Bergandy feels that he cannot trust the union negotiators, then perhaps he shouldn’t be participating in the negotiations! Think about that. The union lied about something that he said (in his view), and he is now openly and fairly raising ways in which trust can be regained and ensured, and the response — from an ostensible representative of the public! — is that he’s been tainted and ought to take himself out of the picture.
It was like watching the lunchtime supervisors in middle school argue that a beaten and bloody student should proceed into a dark corner with the bully in good faith, because, honestly, really, truly, this time the bully is interested in calmly resolving differences.
Some folks expressed concern that requesting open negotiations would create costly delays in the contract creation process, but let’s be honest: As I warned the committee before it made the ridiculously poor decision to approve the last contract, the union is simply not going to negotiate until the economy recovers. Precedent has proven that they’ll receive retroactive pay from the economic perspective of the date that the contract is approved (i.e., in good times), and as long as they’re able to hold out, they will.