Friday, September 17, 2010

Resident's Fight the EASD's New Gag Rule!

Posted by: Noel Jones

Check out Colin McEvoy's article in yesterday's Express Times on the Easton Area School District's latest stunt to shut out public input in deciding how our tax dollars should be spent. 

I will be adding to this post on this latest assault on our civil liberties later today.

For now, just know that it appears that school board president, Pat Fisher, in a fresh wave of entitlement--over the protests of the only two board members that spoke up for the taxpayers, Jen Holzberger and Kerri-Leonard Ellison--Pat Fisher has declared, in violation of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Laws, that  We the People, we the taxpaying voters, won't be allowed to speak up any more during public workshop meetings, because too many residents are upset with how they are mishandling our money, so it takes too long to listen to us, and they'd rather do what they want, and go home early.

As school board member Pat Vulcano put it, "I mean, we do have a life."

Read here about the residents to showed up and spoke up anyway--these are the local heroes of our day--the ones who--as our civil liberties and pocketbooks continue to get squeezed in this country--continue to speak truth to power regardless of the "rules," as are Jen Holzberger and Kerri-Leonard Ellison, who don't mind doing the job they were elected to do, and continue to fight for resident taxpayers as they have all year.


peterkc said...

I'll repeat what I said in a message to school board members this morning:

'Your in-house solicitor seems to be so invested in telling you what you want to hear that he will aid and abet violations of state law. The Sunshine Act is clear that discussion in preparation for a vote or other official action is deliberation and that workshop meetings are still meetings.

'I understand that serving on the school board requires an enormous amount of your time, and that you have families and other obligations -- but it is also a real opportunity to do what's right for the children and families living in the district.

'You should be delighted that members of the public -- taxpayers, parents, and neighbors -- are interested and willing to take the time to come to meetings and try to engage in the process. If this means your meetings are too long, then you need to allow more time or split the issues among more sessions so you can and they can discuss the issues that are important.

'Perhaps you could tell your administration to find effective ways to reduce the bureaucratic BS -- look at all the time you wasted discussing whether to use taxpayer funds to pay a contractor to fix work that he did not do properly the first time.'

Peter Crownfield
Bill of Rights Defense Committee - Lehigh Valley


Anonymous said...

Mr. Crownfield:

This Board is the only school board in the state of Pennsylvania that drones on into the wee hours of the morning. This isn't due to the district administration, it is due to the micromanagement of two board members in particular both of whom are favorites of this blog's editor.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Very simply put, what part of "public process" doesn't the EASD get? If they embark on a course of discussion or action during one of these meetings that may not be (or in the EASD's case, almost always isn't) in the public's best interest, wouldn't it make sense for some citizen, who may have knowledge to get things back on track, to have an opportunity to intervene before things go to astray?

Why should they be muzzled and have to come back to another meeting just to make a valid point and why would the EASD want to waste time and energy going down the wrong road only to need to back track later?

As for the comments about their precious time; they knew that when they ran for office. Maybe they need to reconsider their own participation in these elected roles if late hours are their concern. I can certainly tell you that I have a life, but I'm at multiple public meetings throughout the month, get paid nothing and often lose money by forgoing other opportunites to be there. This is called citizenship and community commitment. I'm not the only one who does it and all who do likewise deserve higher respect than they get.

Vulcano always seems to be at the core of these inane discussions about policy and time commitment but is never around for key votes on issues that a concerned citizen might consider relevent when making EASD candidate voting decisions.

As long as we are talking about voting, here is my selection for Easton's inept elected official of the year award:

Pat Vulcano - lazy, ignorant, blameless...what more could we ask for.


noel jones said...

Anon 4:00~I do hope that by "drones on" you are not referring to the voices of people speaking up to engage in the political process of deciding where our tax money is spent. It would be breathtakingly irresponsible in a town that has suffered from voter apathy in recent decades at a current rate of about 6-7% of REGISTERED voters in non-presidential elections, to actually DISCOURAGE the participation of residents in the community.

And yes, Jen Holzberger and Kerri Leonard-Ellison are the favorites of this blog's readers because they are the only two that have consistently stood up for the voting taxpayers, parents, students and teachers in this community that cared enough to take hours out of their lives to give their input. There isn't a resident I know that doesn't have a million things they would rather be doing (or need to be doing) than attending a school board meeting. That these residents committed to the process and intend to continue to engage in the process is to be applauded. That anyone would discourage following PA's Sunshine Laws is not only shameful, but illegal, as peterkc, and attorneys from the ACLU, have pointed out.

Besides, the timing is a joke. the only time that including public input has caused meetings to go on for hours this year was during the budget crisis when tax hikes and teacher layoffs were at stake, and hundreds of people showed up. On a regular night (like last night) the board has been lucky if 5-10 concerned citizens show up, and at 3 minutes a piece, that longest that could possibly extend a meeting is 30 minutes. so this is not even about not wanting to go home early, this is about wanting to shut out public input on how our tax money is spent. The majority of deliberations on upcoming votes happens at the public workshop meetings, so they are trying to set up a scenario by which they can have closed-door deliberations without the public involved, decide what they want to do with our money, and then turn a deaf ear to citizens at the board meeting while they go through the motions of allowing them to get up and speak.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Sitting quietly while someone speaks is NOT listening. Actually CONSIDERING their points and INCORPORATING them into the discussion is listening. The EASD has proven they doesn't like to listen, but if board members keep this up they won't have to come to the meetings at all as residents will finally get fed up enough to run for office themselves.

If Jen Holzberger and Kerri Leonard-Ellison are the only two people speaking up consistently for the residents, why on earth wouldn't they be are "favorites"? You know what happens to "favorites," don't you? That's right. They get re-elected.

Denis R. Lieb said...


If you think excessive meeting length is now the "fault" of the two new board members who actually engage in meaningful discussion, maybe you have the wrong expectations of what the school board's duties and responsibilities are. Whether or not someone running this blog likes the job they are doing or not is irrelevent to the conversation and it sounds more like there is someone "out there" associated with another board member who doesn't want to debate these issues openly and/or has an ax to grind. Of course, we won't truly know the answers to this since we continue to get complaints of blog criticism from the vast "anonymous" wilderness.

Let me be clear. I have no "favorites" on the board. I've only been to one meeting and that was for a clearly singular issue I had about the use and sale of Cottingham School. Here are some facts though. When the tax increase issue was burning, these two individuals made extra time for the public to discuss the details into the late evening...twice! That's called going above and beyond the call of duty.

As for my one experience at an EASD meeting, I had to wait ninety minutes for my chance to speak and during that time listened to a presentation on re-accreditation, which included a breakdown of costs. The chart they put up on the screen had a short list of figures that were totalled at the bottom showing the district's financial commitment. The figures were off by $700 to the district's detriment - and it wasn't a lot of could add them in your head. Why no one on the board brought this to the presenter's attention is anyone's guess, but if this is the level of detail we can expect of those watching the henhouse for us then maybe all the meetings should last until midnight if that's what it takes to get it right..


g_whiz said...

Having been to my share of the EASD schoolboard meetings, I'd have to echo the idea of the blog editor refrenced above. On the whole, when it comes to processes that involve committee vote and consensus, it seems entirely reckless to speed things along just because people "have lives", especially given the problematicly commonplace series of oversights and missteps our school board seems to be making.

If one is disinterested in public service of this nature, it is to my knowledge not obligatory that one carry on. Shortcuts to the process seem incredibly ill thought especially if its merely for the sake of expediency. The implications are too great, and a great deal of the recent mistakes require a lot more deliberation than such a casual skipping out on transparency allows. Its ethically dishonest and needs to be accounted for accordingly.

darkesthour said...

But we know that Pat Vulcano has a life. Hasn't he been awol all year having it? Before he disappeared he was suing the taxpayers along with his personal life daughter, who got to cut in line for a public teaching job but didn't rise to the occasion by meeting enough professional standards to keep it. It isn't that we don't know Pat Vulcano has a life, its just that his life keeps turning out to be our problem.

Anonymous said...

Hear ye hear ye! All residents, it has been learnewd that a certaion public body once again feels they are above the law. They aree in clear violation of the Sunshine LAws of this good Commonwealth. Les we foreget, this is the same public body that expressed to the good Commonwealth that the reason for laying 70 of our finbew professionals was not financial!!!

C'mon people, wkae up and getr involved in your local governments. I see the city encouragiong more and more involvement but I see the county trying to bully locala into makjing the decisions they want (Berkheimer) and then there is the issue of the school board. Well if they do indeed "have a life" as one said, why did they run?

noel jones said...

darkesthour--thanks for posting--you always have a unique way of wording things!

Anon 11:49 i know that one frustrated resident who attended most of the budget meetings this year has stepped to the plate and announced that he will run in 2011: Marty Jones. primaries are this spring. now is the time to run, or find someone new in your community to run, against the members of the board who have not been fighting for the community.

i'm visiting Apple's "genius bar" today (because a genius, i am not) to get email access glitches worked out, and after i do, i will be posting the list someone sent me a long time ago of all school board positions that are up for grabs in 2011.

in the meantime, start talking amongst yourselves, about who in your community you can encourage to run--who do you know that might make a good candidate? Republican, Democrat or Independent does not matter--we just need someone who understands that part of the job is LISTENING TO THE PUBLIC, CONSIDERING AND INCORPORATING THEIR SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW TO CUT WASTEFUL SPENDING OF OUR TAX DOLLARS AND IMPROVE THE EDUCATION OF OUR COMMUNITY'S YOUTH.

more on this soon...

noel jones said...

We have made national news again--The San Diego Union-Tribune linked to The Morning Call's article on the EASD's new gag rule in violation of the Sunshine Laws:

I would like to start seeing our city make the national news for GOOD reasons, rather than violating civil rights, turning down Race To The Top funding for our struggling schools, or naming our children Hitler.

This is the second time in less than a year that our city is being nationally embarrassed because of the bad decisions of the EASD.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I agree with your premise that it would be great to see Easton recognised nationally for something outstanding. Unfortunately, it is now in the nature of these news conglomerates to search out the bad, wherever it may be, to fill their pages.

This would be less of an issue if the local papers (here and everywhere else) were full of local stories instead of Hollywood gossip, "opinions" on who will win the latest reality TV embarassment and whatever other useless garbage they choose to print.

A city like Easton can only prosper if it takes control of it's local economy and re-localization of commerce can only take place if the local banking establishments, educational institutions and news gathering agencies take local self-reliance seriously.

The foreign control of the Express Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post share a common weakness: national corporate media conglomerates deciding what will and will not be defined as "important" for local consumption.

We are NOT simply consumers, customers or tax payers. We are citizens and must demand better.


noel jones said...

See my more recent post "Let the Sunshine In!" to continue this conversation there--also the complete PA Sunshine Act as well as Gov. Rendell's paper on "Open Meetings" is now available by clicking the tab on the right of this screen called Downloadable Documents..

I hope everyone can make it to the school board meeting on Thursday at 6pm at 1801 Bushkill, 2nd floor to stand up and be counted as fighting for citizens' right to speak at public meetings!