Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Secrecy in choosing vacant School Board replacement is bad. Hypocrisy is worse.

I surprised myself last month. Upon hearing the news that former Tooele District Superintendent Michael Johnsen was chosen as outgoing State School Board member Richard Moss' replacement, I was thrilled that the Governor actually made a good decision. Not just a good decision, a great decision! However, my elation blinded me to the fact that there was not a shred of transparency in the process. Had the person been someone that I felt was not good for public education you would have been reading this post a month ago when the selection was made! Shame on me for being a hypocrite. Unfortunately, I'm not the only hypocrite.

There is already a problem with how the State School Board is elected in Utah. I've written at length about the process, but to quickly summarize, a committee is appointed from within the Governor's office. They interview candidates and narrow them down to three from within each district. They recommend three candidates to the Governor who likewise narrows the field down to two whose names are then placed on the ballot where the people decide who will be elected. This process needs to be changed and attempts were recently made in the last legislative session but were blocked in the Senate Education Committee.

The current vacancy came when Board Member Richard Moss moved to Arizona in mid-March. A couple of weeks later, Governor Huntsman decided that Michael Johnsen would be the best man for the job. I agree! But the Governor didn't get advice from the Legislators as he should have. The Legislators will need to approve the newly appointed board member, which will likely happen later this month, but Richard Moss has called for them to block the Governor's pick on grounds that it wasn't a fair and open process. He makes an excellent point!

20A-1-507. Midterm vacancies in the State Board of Education.

(1) If a vacancy occurs on the State Board of Education for any reason other than the expiration of a member's term, the governor, with the consent of the Senate, shall fill the vacancy by appointment of a qualified member to serve out the unexpired term.

(2) The lieutenant governor shall issue a certificate of appointment to the appointed member and certify the appointment to the board.

The biggest hypocrites in all of this is Senate leadership, specifically Senator Howard Stephenson. He was quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune as saying, "We've heard a lot about transparency in government and the need to choose representatives of the people in an open process," he said, "and this didn't appear to be open." Stephenson said that the Governor should consider withdrawing Johnsen's selection.

Senator Stephenson is the man who, as President of the Utah Taxpayers Association, bragged that they were able to "beat back a challenge to the committee which recruits and nominates candidates for the state school board". Since I just wrote about his conflicts of interest, I'll simply suggest that you read my recent post on the topic. It's really quite unbelievable that he, out of anyone, would have a valid opinion on the matter. Senator Waddoups chimed in, too, and we all know the problems he's been having; removing Senator Buttars from one committee position and assigning him to another.

I agree with the selection by Governor Huntsman. I hope that the Senate will confirm Michael Johnsen. If they don't give their consent and instead cry foul due to the lack of openness, then I expect them to do something about the flawed nomination process that doesn't allow the people to fairly elect those who represent them. I expect that anyway...I'm just sayin'.