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Thread: Commentary on the School Committee Race

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    Default Commentary on the School Committee Race

    Wayland is fortunate to have two extraordinary volunteers running for School Committee. Beth Butler is an accomplished attorney and mediator, a retired judge who is highly respected in the legal community. Shawn Kinney is a successful business founder and, by all accounts, a skilled manager. Both have relevant skills and are each is capable of making a meaningful contribution. They each bring a different perspective, but their views are not far apart, and in Tuesday’s election Wayland will be the winner regardless of who gets the most votes.

    At the end of the day, most voters simply want the comfort of knowing that their hefty tax dollars are being spent carefully and that the quality of the schools is being preserved. Kinney’s financial skills on their face answer the desire for that comfort more readily than Butler’s legal skills. Many embrace the view that there have to be efficiencies that can be identified within our school budget that will cause our schools to be run more efficiently, that is a view that we share, and it seems to be the essence of Kinney’s platform.

    Of course, every dollar saved is a boon to the taxpayer, but we must keep in mind that it’s all a matter of degree. We are kidding ourselves if we think that there’s an as-yet-unidentified pot of gold just waiting to be discovered in our school budget, by Kinney, or by his petitioned outside audit, or by anyone else.

    A bigger concern is that if Kinney is elected, then the School Committee will be without a lawyer. Those who have sat on corporate or established nonprofit oversight boards know that the presence of a lawyer is invaluable for identifying potential legal problems, avoiding lawsuits, and managing outside counsel cost-effectively. When you consider that the School Committee is an all volunteer board managing a budget of over $30 million and hundreds of union and non-union employees, is responsible for the safety of over 2,600 children, sets educational policy in a state where education is so highly regulated, and is in the process of building a high school and recruiting a new Superintendent, the preferred candidate becomes obvious. It’s not a matter of which candidate is “good”. They’re both good. It’s a matter of which candidate is better able to help the Town avoid legal and financial risk. From that perspective, the preferred choice is Butler. It would take only one nasty lawsuit that could have been avoided by Butler, to cost whatever savings Kinney can identify - if not more.

    Note: this post is the opinion of the WaylandeNews Editorial Board, with a 2-0 vote (one abstention)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Editorial Board View Post
    From that perspective, the preferred choice is Butler. It would take only one nasty lawsuit that could have been avoided by Butler, to cost whatever savings Kinney can identify - if not more.

    Note: this post is the opinion of the WaylandeNews Editorial Board, with a 2-0 vote (one abstention)
    To the editorial board: It would be useful to know and provide credibility of opinion to know which board member voted which way. Specifically name vs. vote cast. You are not required to do this, you are not an elected public board but since we now know that it was 2-0-1 it would useful for the loyal readers and contributers of your site to have this knowledge.

    I just returned from the middle school and had a long conversation with John Bladon. Its great to be able to talk about many things on beautiful days like this and to pass the time as people stream in and out of the voting booth. One of the things I said to John was that it is quite rare to have two immensely qualified people with outstanding resume's contend for the same local position. In this we are all fortunate in Wayland and owe thanks to both Beth Butler and Shawn Kinney for running and if winning, giving of their time and effort to our town.

    The give and take between "do we need a lawyer?" or "do we need someone with business / financial acumen?" is a question that I also carefully considered in my support and my vote.

    In fact, the school committee has had resident lawyers for many years, Steve Perlman, Bob Gordon, Deb Cohen, Jeff Dieffenbach [GRIN] (If I missed one please excuse me). In my observation, the additional presence of a lawyer on the school committee has not had a substantive effect on the legal-litigation history of that board. And as an outside observer, may have had a neutral to negative effect.

    The Wayland School Committee took the legal position to withhold evaluations of the superintendent which created a lengthy battle that lasted 5 years culminating in a Supreme Judicial Court reversal with a flurry of FOIA requests. Charles Schlegel, former principal of the middle school, used the list-server of the WPS to send out an OCPF violation email to ask for an override vote. An rogue email was sent out by the chair, by accident to his board which included resident that ultimately revealed OML issues. Open meeting violations occurred during that past 3 years and more recently a remedy was sought to have the state come in and provide OML class training.

    It is not the purpose of the above dialogue to continue to chastise the school committee on these things but the presence of a school committee lawyer has not had a substantive positive effect on legal issues that they have become involved in or that the school system has become involved in.

    In fact, the budget of the school system provides for both resident and special council as needed by the committee and the school system. The school committee should depend upon their hired guns to provide them guidance and to represent them as they need that representation from time to time. The fact is that the school committee can have a lawyer or not have a lawyer. The heavy lifting should be done by hired attorneys who operate in an attorney-client basis and not as a co-member of a board.

    What the school committee needs now is a person who is a self-starter, who built a business, who is highly educated and who understands business, the financials and who has taken the initiative to proffer an audit article of the same school system that he could possibly be serving tomorrow. A candidate who has also did the hard work in studying the data and has much to offer in his analytical data and fact based decision making.

    In the grand scheme of things, the legal requirements are the tail while the business and financial aspects are the dog.
    With all due respect to the board of WaylandeNews... your vote is the 'tail wagging the dog'.

    Respectfully submitted by Alan J. Reiss 11-May-2010

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    To the editorial board: It would be useful to know and provide credibility of opinion to know which board member voted which way. Specifically name vs. vote cast. You are not required to do this, you are not an elected public board but since we now know that it was 2-0-1 it would useful for the loyal readers and contributers of your site to have this knowledge.
    Alan, I won't speak for the Editorial Board (of which I am not part), but I will point out that Ian Hecker wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wayland Town Crier a few weeks back endorsing Beth Butler. I think it's safe to assume that he was a vote in favor. I'll leave it to the Board to determine how much more they want to add.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    I just returned from the middle school and had a long conversation with John Bladon. Its great to be able to talk about many things on beautiful days like this and to pass the time as people stream in and out of the voting booth. One of the things I said to John was that it is quite rare to have two immensely qualified people with outstanding resume's contend for the same local position. In this we are all fortunate in Wayland and owe thanks to both Beth Butler and Shawn Kinney for running and if winning, giving of their time and effort to our town.
    I could not agree more with this sentiment, so let me re-iterate: thank you both to Shawn and Beth.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    In fact, the school committee has had resident lawyers for many years, Steve Perlman, Bob Gordon, Deb Cohen, Jeff Dieffenbach [GRIN]
    I'm not precisely sure what you meant by [GRIN], but I confess I don't get the joke. In case anyone is confused by this comment, I thought it worth noting explicitly that Jeff Dieffenbach is not an attorney.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    In my observation, the additional presence of a lawyer on the school committee has not had a substantive effect on the legal-litigation history of that board.
    It's actually quite hard to imagine how you could have any idea what effect the presence of an attorney on the committee has had. Would we go back and time and replay history and see how many lawsuits ensued? Do we know how many lawsuits, or what magnitude of legal fees were averted by the presence of an attorney on the board? It would be interesting to hear from someone who has been on the board if they are able to say anything on this topic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Alan, I won't speak for the Editorial Board (of which I am not part), but I will point out that Ian Hecker wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wayland Town Crier a few weeks back endorsing Beth Butler. I think it's safe to assume that he was a vote in favor. I'll leave it to the Board to determine how much more they want to add.
    So you mean Ian Hecker, who wrote an endorsement for Beth Butler a few weeks back also must have voted for Beth Butler now and was one of the 2-0-1 votes?

    This means that Ian Hecker was already for Beth Butler before any of the WaylandeNews Q and A were turned in by either candidate. I thought that those Q and A helped the entire WaylandeNews Board make up their mind and became part of the WaylandeNews endorsement decision. This also means that it didn't matter whether Shawn Kinney handed in his questions to eNews or not... whether they where late or not. At least one of the three votes was already cast in stone.

    So this begs the questions: (1) What is the purpose of the Q and A in terms of the eNews board? and (2) What does it say for the voting of the eNews board being biased or unbiased? and (3) What is the validity of eNews creating, assimilating, dispersing and controlling the candidate questions going forward into the future?


    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I'm not precisely sure what you meant by [GRIN], but I confess I don't get the joke. In case anyone is confused by this comment, I thought it worth noting explicitly that Jeff Dieffenbach is not an attorney.
    Well sometimes jokes are inside jokes but I actually meant it as a compliment to Jeff's very legal sounding mind, analysis and thought process. But if Jeff is offended by it then I hereby retract the joke. (Although I still think its funny in the context I used it in [GRIN].)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    It's actually quite hard to imagine how you could have any idea what effect the presence of an attorney on the committee has had.
    And on the contrary, it was evidently the thrusting criteria to not have picked a non-lawyer by the eNews board (although based on the above, I'm not sure about Ian Hecker) so I have to throw the question back at you.

    What we do know is that the WSC has been involved in a SJC decision, has had open meeting law violations, has had to have the DA come in and give OML sensitivity training, it has had to have a chair send a rogue email exposing OML violations, it has had a principal get a scolding letter from the OCPF because he couldn't tell the difference between a 'welcome back to school Johnny letter' and a 'please pay more school taxes' letter right from the middle school list-server.

    Where were all the SC lawyers during those debacles?

    There is an expression in law that says: "He who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client".
    A school committee who is the client and also is the lawyer must then be the fool.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    So you mean Ian Hecker, who wrote an endorsement for Beth Butler a few weeks back also must have voted for Beth Butler now and was one of the 2-0-1 votes?

    This means that Ian Hecker was already for Beth Butler before any of the WaylandeNews Q and A were turned in by either candidate. I thought that those Q and A helped the entire WaylandeNews Board make up their mind and became part of the WaylandeNews endorsement decision. This also means that it didn't matter whether Shawn Kinney handed in his questions to eNews or not... whether they where late or not. At least one of the three votes was already cast in stone.

    So this begs the questions: (1) What is the purpose of the Q and A in terms of the eNews board? and (2) What does it say for the voting of the eNews board being biased or unbiased? and (3) What is the validity of eNews creating, assimilating, dispersing and controlling the candidate questions going forward into the future?
    Ian’s personal endorsement was in the Crier two issues ago (April 29). I am not aware of any personal endorsements issued by the other members of the Editorial Board at any time during this election cycle. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Q&A.

    The Q&A is intended to allow the candidates to express their views on various issues that the public has told us it cares about. It is just another vehicle for the public to understand and get to know the candidates, beyond the call-in show and candidates’ night, which are inherently limiting. It has nothing to do with whether the Editorial Board is going to take a position, or what position the Editorial Board or its individual members are going to take. They attempt to make the Q&A helpful for the public, and we have received very positive feedback about it.

    Ian’s reasoning in his personal endorsement does not touch on any of the issues set forth in the Q&A, so obviously the two are separate.

    I am speaking here for myself (and I was not party to the Editorial Board vote). Being a lawyer is not necessary, nor is it sufficient. A lawyer with less stellar attributes would not have won so many over. And a non-lawyer is not automatically off the table.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Well sometimes jokes are inside jokes but I actually meant it as a compliment to Jeff's very legal sounding mind, analysis and thought process. But if Jeff is offended by it then I hereby retract the joke. (Although I still think its funny in the context I used it in [GRIN].)
    I just thought some people might have been confused and mistakenly thought Jeff was an attorney.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    And on the contrary, it was evidently the thrusting criteria to not have picked a non-lawyer by the eNews board (although based on the above, I'm not sure about Ian Hecker) so I have to throw the question back at you.

    What we do know is that the WSC has been involved in a SJC decision, has had open meeting law violations, has had to have the DA come in and give OML sensitivity training, it has had to have a chair send a rogue email exposing OML violations, it has had a principal get a scolding letter from the OCPF because he couldn't tell the difference between a 'welcome back to school Johnny letter' and a 'please pay more school taxes' letter right from the middle school list-server.

    Where were all the SC lawyers during those debacles?
    I am going to respond to this based on my understanding of history and the facts, and hope that participants with more experience and history will correct me if I get any of this wrong.

    I do not believe the WSC has had open meeting law violations (emphasis on the "s" in violations). I believe there was a violation. That violation involved a highly complicated matter, on which two lower courts sided with the SC. For those who wondered why the SC pursued this topic, the SC did not -- they were pursued! The highest court overturned the two lower courts, but they actually upheld most of what the SC had done, and acknowledged that the existing laws created a conflict for the conduct of evaluations. They subsequently changed the laws in such a way that enabled more to be done in executive session. People can make the SC out to be villains all they want on this one, but I think anyone who pays attention to the facts recognizes that the situation was complicated and no bad behavior was ever intended.

    Charlie Schlegel's email was a mistake, though I know I argued at the time that his email seemed pretty darn innocuous. But people are often quite zealous in some of these complaints, and what is an inadvertent error may be found to be "wrong" by the OCPF. All the administrators had previously received some amount of training that should have prevented this error, and no similar error has occurred since. The OCPF releases newsletters detailing the errors they find several times a year. Read through and you'll see that many well-intentioned people have made mistakes. It's hard to navigate these challenging waters. No doubt we all need to do our best to avoid such mistakes.

    To my knowledge, no OML violation has been found on the "rogue" chair email. I would not be surprised to learn that a complaint has been filed, but I have not heard a finding that a violation occurred. Written now, this email I think would be a violation of the new OML regulations, which is what you call "sensitivity training" was about. Perhaps you didn't realize it, but the laws have actually changed.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 05-11-2010 at 07:19 PM.

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    I was the board member who abstained from issuing an endorsement. I’ve been busy with the aftermath of flooding in my basement, and I didn’t feel that I had done adequate research on the candidates, the amount of research I felt would have been necessary to issue a public endorsement.

    It's a bit after 8 PM, but as of this posting, I still don't know how the race turned out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    Well sometimes jokes are inside jokes but I actually meant it as a compliment to Jeff's very legal sounding mind, analysis and thought process. But if Jeff is offended by it then I hereby retract the joke. (Although I still think its funny in the context I used it in [GRIN].)
    Far from offended, I take great pleasure in Mr. Reiss' conferring upon me honorary admission to the bar.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    What we do know is that the WSC has been involved in a SJC decision,
    "Involved?" That's the best you can do with respect to the Supreme Judicial Court's (SJC) effective castigation of the Middlesex District Attorney's (MDA) office? "Involved?"

    For those who have been paying more attention to LOST (which premiered in 2004) than School Committee activities since that same year, the SJC found arguably more fault with the MDA than the WSC.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    has had open meeting law violations,
    Sorry, you can't count this one a second time--it was already part of your "involvement" above. That said, if I'm not mistaken, there was one other technical violation of the OML back in 2003 or thereabouts--if memory serves, it had something to do with an improper posting of a meeting (the meeting was posted, but with an error).

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    has had to have the DA come in and give OML sensitivity training,
    Again, double-counting.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    it has had to have a chair send a rogue email exposing OML violations,
    The email in question didn't expose an OML violation, it just might *arguably* have *been* one (to my knowledge, no ruling to that effect was ever made).

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    it has had a principal get a scolding letter from the OCPF because he couldn't tell the difference between a 'welcome back to school Johnny letter' and a 'please pay more school taxes' letter right from the middle school list-server.
    One wonders how any number of lawyers on the School Committee might have headed that one off.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    There is an expression in law that says: "He who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client". A school committee who is the client and also is the lawyer must then be the fool.
    A fun expression, to be sure. Inapplicable, but fun. Lawyers *on* the Committee in no way constitute lawyers *for* the Committee.

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    Well, we'll have to find out what life is like without a lawyer on the WSC. Congratulations to Shawn Kinney on his victory tonight!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawrence J. Krakauer View Post
    I was the board member who abstained from issuing an endorsement. I’ve been busy with the aftermath of flooding in my basement, and I didn’t feel that I had done adequate research on the candidates, the amount of research I felt would have been necessary to issue a public endorsement.

    It's a bit after 8 PM, but as of this posting, I still don't know how the race turned out.
    Shawn Kinney is now out newest school committee member !
    Congratulations to Mr. Kinney and Wayland.

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    Alan,
    Sorry I couldn't respond earlier-late night at work. As stated above by Kim, I have been very public about my support of Beth's candidacy, and why. My endorsement was not based on the candidates' positions on the issues that were disclosed in the Q&A. The questions in the Q&A were based on issues that readers brought to our attention as ones they were interested in. As for the commentary above, it's just an opinion, no more and no less. We have been criticized in the past for daring to express an opinion, on an open forum, respectfully - a forum on which anyone can express opinons. The fact that we are involved in managing the site should not automatically disqualify us from expressing our opinion on a discussion board that is open to the public.

    As for the election results, my feelings are mixed. I'm very concerned about all of the legal issues that the SC will be facing without a lawyer on board. Outside counsel costs will have to increase, and I'm worried about what issues will be missed that will come back to bite the SC, which they may have otherwise avoided. I truly hope that I won't be able to say, "I told you so."

    You may feel that the SC can just hire a lawyer whenever they need to, but first they have to recognize the need to, and then they have to justify the cost to the public. Wayland does not have a blank check to spend money on legal fees without question, and certainly not in this fiscal and political environment. On the other hand, I do believe that Shawn will be helpful in several ways. He may be able to bring a new perspective to the manner in which the schools are administered, and identify some cost savings. It's impossible to tell at this point what can be wrung out of the school budget without sacrificing quality, and I may be wrong but I'm not anticipating huge savings. Still, every little bit helps, and a change in mindset helps, too. At least no one will be able to argue that the SC does not have some diversity of opinion, and that alone is a very good thing, as long as academic quality is preserved. Too bad there were not two open seats this year so they both could serve.

    Congratulations to Shawn. I hope that the coming year is positive and productive!

    P.S. I completely agree with Kim that being a lawyer should not be necessary, nor is it sufficient, to serve on the SC. In this instance we had a very good lawyer candidate and a very real need.
    Last edited by Ian Hecker; 05-11-2010 at 10:08 PM. Reason: clarification

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Hecker View Post
    The questions in the Q&A were based on issues that readers brought to our attention as ones they were interested in.
    Readers? Which readers? I don't recall there being a RFQ (request for questions) ever being put out by the Editorial Board of this website soliciting questions for said Q&A. Exactly how were these questiosn solicited, sifted and then sorted to come up with a cross-section of what your readers would like to know?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Hecker View Post
    Congratulations to Shawn. I hope that the coming year is positive and productive!

    P.S. I completely agree with Kim that being a lawyer should not be necessary, nor is it sufficient, to serve on the SC. In this instance we had a very good lawyer candidate and a very real need.
    Ian, thank you for chiming in here. Shawn Kinney will be an important addition to the SC and one where he will bring a fresh perspective on many things and will create (in my opinion) varied opinions which, in itself, creates a tension that ultimately makes better decisions.

    At the end of an election and when the people speak then a finale' occurs and I always respect that finale' where I like it or not.
    In this case, I like it and its apparent that I am and have been a great supporter of Mr. Kinney.

    Given this, I appreciate your response to me as an infrequent poster and I think its best now to move onto other issues and let fate now play out its role in our democratic process.

    My next target is to convince the people of Wayland that moving 17th century town meeting into the 21st century is a wise endeavor and one that will preserve our 371 year old tradition well into the future. Of course I speak of Electronic Voting.

    With that said, I would like to move past this thread and continue into the future as I have in the past, a poster on enews if and when I can intelligently add to the dialogue.

    Alan

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    Congratulations to Mr. Bladon and Mr. Kinney on their election victories. And thanks to the town for approving the Debt Exclusion vote which, with a vote at Town Meeting, will allow the schools to continue to fund their educational technology initiative.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Hecker View Post
    Too bad there were not two open seats this year so they both could serve.

    There are many things on which to comment in the posts above which time permitting, I will get to at some point.
    But for now, I just want to point out that, as you probably already know, there is a rumor that a certain SC member whom I won't mention by name out of respect for privacy, will be stepping down from the SC in the very near fuutre.

    There is also a rumor that Ms. Butler will then be appointed to the SC to fulfill that member's term.

    So, Ian it seems that they WILL both be sitting on the board before you know it. You must be psychic!
    Unless of course, you somehow knew this already...? Is that possible?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    John, I normally do not participate on this board because I don't have the time to do so, so I will merely answer your question and check out.
    I knew absolutely nothing about this, heard no rumor, nothing. But I have to say that that would be a good result. I meant what I said above.

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