A few thoughts

Published 12:34 pm Saturday, May 23, 2015

In another week or so, decisions regarding two seats on the Southampton County School Board will be rendered when appointments or re-appointments are made for the Hunterdale-Franklin and Berlin-Ivor districts.

This decision time also provides me with yet another opportunity to point out how foolish the system of appointing school board members is in Southampton County. Of the commonwealth’s 133 independent school systems, only 24 do not elect their school board members. 21 leave the appointment process up to the local governing body, either the county board of supervisors or the city council. Three put the decision in the hands of an unelected, appointed body of three members. Southampton County is one of those three.

Yes, I’ve criticized this process before and, yes, I probably will again.

Why? Not because the panel does a poor job, but because the process stinks. An unelected school board appointed by an unelected selection panel is authorized to spend half of the county taxpayers’ dollars with no accountability to anyone. It’s called taxation without representation. C’mon, people! This country was started because the colonists fought an oppressive monarchy over this very issue. Remember a little thing called the Boston Tea Party?

Maybe I’ll write about it next year when this column is once again critical of how the school board is selected in Southampton County.

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A couple months ago, I wrote a column voicing my displeasure with the rules for citizens’ time at Franklin City School Board meetings. In it, I stated my belief that the rules—which currently prohibit a speaker from not only mentioning an employee of the school system by name but even describing a title or job that may identify that person— as unconstitutional. After suffering much correspondence and a couple of conversations with me about the applicable case law, the school board’s attorney, Taylor Williams, has recommended that the board change its rules for citizens’ time. As Mr. Williams took the original column to be somewhat of a personal challenge to him, which I truly didn’t intend for it to be, I’d like to use some ink in this same space to publicly thank him for his time researching the issue and making the recommended changes that would lift the current prohibition on free speech. The school board is set to take action on the proposed changes at its June meeting. I encourage members to follow their attorney’s lead.

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What does the fight against taxation without representation and the protection of First Amendment rights have in common? Many men and women have died on the field of battle for both. As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, please take a moment to reflect on those who have died in service to our country. May we be ever mindful of, and eternally grateful for, those who have laid down their lives so that ours may be spent living in a country that is better because they were willing to die for it.

Tony Clark is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.