Wednesday, July 19, 2006

She Would Cut Off the Nose to Spite the Face

District 5 School Board candidate Kay Brooks says that she is not pleased that Metro foots the bill for laptops for School Board members. She would prefer that “a not-for-profit or community group step up and supply them.”

What is it about Metro governance that attracts local yokels who either do not understand or do not care about the petty improprieties that eat away at the fabric of government accountability and integrity? Remember the Meals-for-Deals take in which private groups were paying for Metro Council members to eat on meeting nights, while some of those groups stood to gain from Metro Council action? Remember how when government officials start receiving gifts like Titans tickets and movie passes from private sources they start throwing around the “we-cannot-police-this” excuse in order to undermine ethics reform?

Now, Kay Brooks, if she stays in control of her seat after the August election, would have private groups pay for School Board laptops. The implication is clear to me: private groups, which have interests in School Board decisions, would be giving gifts (of around $1,000 per seat!) to nine people vested with protecting the public interest in education. Gifts received from certain non-profits connected with certain private interests would predispose School Board members to vote favorably with those private interests on future decisions before the Board. Why isn’t this dilemma clear to Kay? If she has her way, School Board members could only accept these private gifts and avoid a conflict of interest by recusing themselves whenever a vote involving the interests of the private group came up. All nine members would have to recuse themselves. That means that votes could not be taken on matters that involve the private gift-giver; in some cases the lack of a vote on a contentious matter involving the gift-giver could itself be a conflict of interest.

But the problem is more profound. Kay Brooks is essentially arguing that we take the ability to hold our School Board members accountable out of the hands of Nashvillians and that we put it into the hands of a smaller ring of private groups and School Board members themselves. Finding a “not-for-profit” or “community” gift-giver does not make her argument any more palatable. There is nothing more inherently moral about a “not-for-profit” as opposed to a “for-profit.” In fact, the former has been known to be used as a smoke-screen for the latter, even when it is “for the children.”

If tax money pays for the computers, then taxpayers keep hold of the right to demand responsible and ethical behavior on the School Board. If private money pays for the computers, then taxpayers have less power over their School Board representatives, and private groups have more influence over education policy. In the name of saving some tax money, Kay Brooks is asking us to sacrifice our claim and our resort to demanding accountability from our representatives. That is a price too high for me, and it represents another reason to vote for anybody but Kay Brooks in District 5.

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