Hamilton County Commission fails again

Hamilton County Commission fails again

April 2nd, 2012 in Opinion Times

The Hamilton County Commission voted 5-4 Thursday to appoint Greg Martin to the District school board seat vacated by Everett Fairchild, who resigned for health reasons. The action came after a lamentable lack of public engagement on the part of the commission. Unfortunately, that's been the way the commission conducts its business lately.

County residents deserve better. The appointment of a school board member for a term that extends for two years -- when Fairchild's term would have expired -- is much too important to become embroiled in the petty politics and self-serving interests of the commission. That seems to have occurred in the run-up to Martin's appointment.

Eleven individuals applied for the school board post, including at least four former educators. Most of those seeking appointment were not well known in the district they hoped to serve. Providing a forum for aspirants to express their views about school policies is, whether they like it or not, a responsibility that should be borne by the commission. Public interviews would meet that need, providing the commission and public with information necessary to form opinions about the viability of each candidate.

Such transparency is essential to good government. Most members of the commission conveniently overlook that responsibility.

Old-fashioned, back-scratching politics -- not what would be best for the county's schools and those who attend them -- appears to have driven the commission vote for Martin. Indeed, one unsuccessful candidate for the school board post -- Jamie Goebel -- said publicly that the Thursday vote was more a referendum on Mitch McClure, the lame duck District 3 commissioner, and the upcoming election to replace him, than it was about the school board post. If that's the case -- and there's no compelling evidence to the contrary -- the public's interest was not served.

Martin, in fact, may be a well-qualified for his new post, though the manner in which he was selected makes that difficult to ascertain. He served several years as an appointed member of the Long Branch, Mississippi, school board. He also managed a multimillion dollar budget and 5,000 employees as chairman of the Home Mission Board, then an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Unfortunately, not much more is widely known about Martin or his views on the county's schools. That is the commission's fault.

A far more open interview and selection process prior to Thursday's vote would have provided the transparency that District 3 residents and other county residents have a right to expect. It especially would have been beneficial to those with children currently or soon to be in the public school system. The commissioners continued refusal to provide that openness or to publicly discuss their reasoning for Thursday's vote suggests an arrogance and sense of entitlement that ill serves county residents.