Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Controversial charter commission starting to come together ... but is the fix in?

A new panel formed to eye whether or not Concord's school board charter should be reformed is starting to take shape but it has a clear tilt towards preserving the status quo.
According to legislative and city hall sources, City Manager Tom Aspell has submitted his five seats on the commission: Chuck Douglas, Wilbur "Bill" Glahn, Maureen Redmond-Scura, Charlie Russell, and Anthony "Skip" Tenczar.
Three of Aspell's choices - Douglas, Glahn, and Russell - are attorneys. Two - Russell and Tenczar - were former CCTV/Concord TV board chairmen. Three are also closely connected with the school system: Glahn is a former school board member who lost re-election last year; Redmond-Scura is chairwoman of the Concord Trust for the enhancement of Public Education and a Kimball Elementary School volunteer, according to a Google search. She is also self-employed, an author, and a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen; and Tenczar was the only citizen to speak against reform bills forwarded in the 2009 legislative session, stating that he thought the school board charter did not need to be reformed and if people wanted charter reform, they should elect new members to the board. Both Tenczar and Glahn have been open supporters of the school system's $60 million elementary school consolidation plan.
Russell is the only pick by Aspell who has been a vocal opponent of the consolidation plan although one could assume that Douglas, being a budget hawk and the only Republican chosen by Aspell, would cast a critical eye on the plan's mega millions pricetag. Russell also forwarded one of the two reform bills to the Legislature - a proposal to force the school board to have a city-wide vote on any debt bonding more than $5 million.

Sidebar and disclosures: Douglas and I are both co-founders and serve as co-chairmen of the Concord Taxpayers Association, a non-profit, non-partisan organization. I was also recommended by Russell and others to Aspell as a potential commission participant. In many ways, it is good that Aspell did not choose me since I was quoted in a Concord Monitor news article and published column opposing the commission's creation. It would have looked slightly hypocritical of me to participate in something that I was vocally critical of, despite my willingness to serve. I will, however, be attending each and every meeting that I can and will be writing about the process here. After all, that's kinda what I do best.

Rounding out the commission
Along with the five chosen by Aspell, the 13-member panel will include two legislators, Mayor Jim Bouley, another city councilor chosen by Bouley, and a state Senate representative. School Board Chairwoman Kass Ardinger will also have a seat on the commission and will get to choose another board member to serve. There will also be another elementary school PTO person appointed by the Rundlett Middle School PTO to serve on the commission.
Rumors have been floating around the State House that Senate President Sylvia Larsen will appoint herself to the commission although that has not been confirmed. There are also rumors that Rep. Jessie Osborne, a sponsor of the bill that created the commission, will not be seated by Speaker Teri Norelli due to her opposition to the state budget.
In addition, one of the legislators will be a Republican from outside of Concord, according to sources. This would mean that the commission would only have two Republicans seated on it [although Bouley could pick one of the five Republicans on the Council to serve with him].
No word yet on who Bouley or Ardinger will choose but expect Kass to pick someone with legislative or legal experience like Jennifer Patterson.

Preserving the status quo
After analyzing the choices and current dynamic of the commission, it is a safe bet that no real reforms will come out of the commission's work. Sure, maybe some token changes will be made to save face. But it is doubtful that this commission will recommend the only acceptable reform that needs to take place: Allowing voters to have direct control over charter changes via ballot initiatives like virtually every other community in the state.
While there is no guarantee that the commission members will vote one way or the other, the writing is clearly on the wall: At least seven of the members - a majority - will have either some connection to the school system, have been vocal opponents of charter reform, or will be appointed by opponents of school board charter reform.
Ardinger, Glahn, Tenczar, and whoever Ardinger picks, will oppose real reform.
It is doubtful the Redmond-Scura or the other elementary school PTO member will cross Ardinger or the school administration when you consider their connection to the school system. That's six votes.
Although, admittedly, Redmond-Scura and Tenczar could surprise people. Redmond-Scura has an interesting employment background and Tenczar, in the past, has always talked a good game about "democracy." That's what makes his previous comments opposing legislative reforms so baffling.
But does anyone really believe that Larsen - or whoever she appoints if it isn't her - will actually vote for direct democracy? This commission - a clear stall tactic to keep reform from occurring - was formed at Larsen's insistence. Does anyone believe she is going to allow change to happen after creating this commission? Why not just approve the initial bill in the first place and not waste everyone's time? She has already stood in the way of direct democracy once. She will probably stand in the way again. Insider Democrats are very good when it comes to spouting about "change you can believe in," but don't ever expect it because it never comes.
That's seven votes ... a majority ... the fix is in.
One can hope for the best with this commission but unfortunately it seems as though the deck is stacked against reforming Concord's school board charter before the process even gets started.


Ben Venator said...

Representative democracy is a funny thing. The same people who would vote one way if there were a referendum on this topic will continue to support the elected officials who appear to be stacking the deck to prevent more direct participation in these big decisions.

Anonymous said...

I heard that Tenczar's wife works for the school district. Do you know if this is true? ...as it seems like a possible conflict of interest.