For weeks, a local for-profit Blog Site has maintained a consistent message assuring movement of the school board election from April to November. The blog interviewed Theresa Minutillo, a sitting board member whose term expires this April, about the wonderful opportunity the move presents, published an election analysis demonstrating how November would reverse city-wide losses sustained by the Zimmer Administration, and sent out a clarion call to all Zimmer supporters urging attendance at the school board meeting.
Dutifully, a dozen or more ardent Zimmer supporters, including First Husband Stan Grossbard, braved the incredibly hot, cramped board meeting room where they were met by an equal or slightly larger group of administration critics.
For two hours the meeting droned on with issues warranting lengthy discussion, such as the budget and labor agreements. Finally, it came time for the public to speak. Positive some in attendance wished to speak on more personal issues such as the schooling of their child, the first speaker chose to address the date of the election. At this point, the board president informed the speaker and all attendees that public comment would be shortened from the standard five minutes, which appears on all board agendas, to two minutes.
The uproar was instantaneous. Several times the board called a recess and approximately one hour later when the meeting continued, in rapid succession the motives of the chair were questioned, a motion to override the chair failed and finally a three minute gag rule was imposed by the Zimmer-supported majority.
Of course, I spoke. Trying to convey how the elected unilaterally extending their time in office was a major concern, I spoke of our representative form of government, which allows the elected to make decisions in the name of the people for a prescribed period and how this contract between the elected and the governed cannot be amended, to extend time in office, without consent from both parties. Midway through I was told my time had elapsed and threatened with arrest if I continued to speak. Debate on these consequential issues stymied, the threat of removal by uniformed police indicates not the lofty stated goal of increased voter participation but a tyrannical board obsessed with abject self-preservation.
I recognized a fait accompli and the affront to the democratic process was exemplar. Zimmer’s board members will tell you other districts enacted similar resolutions, or how not voting on the budget isn’t important. Left unsaid is how recent similar effort to extend the terms of Mayor Zimmer and her council cronies was rebuked by the people.
I don’t want to conflate the people’s right to set the course of term limits through referendum with the operations of the district. Our goal should be to provide the best education. However, the tumultuous 1960s imparted a healthy suspicion of government leaving indelible denying any governing body more than the will of the people freely gives. The will of the people was never considered at the board’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Peter P. Belfiore