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Nominating Committee Encourages the Best Candidate to Serve

AckermanHere is a response from Edgemont's Marc Ackerman to a piece posted this week about Nominating Committees: Regarding " The View from Edgemont: Do Contested Elections Make the System Stronger ?" by Caroline Tzelios, I agree that it is valuable to publicly debate the merits of the SBNC or any other system that performs a public service to our community. As the current Chair of the Edgemont SBNC, therefore, I feel compelled to respond to and correct several statements contained in the article.

First, it is not correct that the "purpose of the SBNC is to put forth the exact number of candidates for the vacant seats on the Board of Education each year." As a technical matter, the SBNC rules provide that the SBNC may recommend Board candidates for the exact number of vacancies, or less. But more importantly, the true "purpose" of the SBNC -- since its formal establishment in 1958 -- is to provide the opportunity for duly elected representatives of Edgemont's civic associations to encourage qualified candidates to run for the board, and to discuss candidates in a face-to-face setting that encourages debate in a thoughtful, respectful and deliberative manner. The SBNC process serves the community in large part by getting people to step up for Board service, and SBNC members devote numerous hours each year talking to community members in an effort to accomplish this. Even with these efforts, it is a challenge to find enough community members willing to step forward for the vacancies on the Board in a given year. The SBNC helps insure that the vacancies are filled, and that committed, qualified community members fill them.

Second, the SBNC does not operate in the dark. Community members are urged to (and do) participate in the process by serving on the SBNC, nominating candidates, discussing candidates with SBNC members and attending certain SBNC meetings. SBNC conducts several public, noticed meetings throughout the year at which members of the public are invited and encouraged to provide their views on what would make a strong Board candidate. Once candidates are nominated to the SBNC by members of the public, the Committee formally seeks letters of comment from the entire community. Many such letters are received every year and all are considered by the full Committee. In addition, community members are encouraged to express opinions to SBNC members as to particular individuals and/or qualities that would benefit the Board. Importantly, once the SBNC makes its recommendations, the SBNC conducts an open forum prior to the election at which all candidates, whether recommended by the SBNC are not, are invited to present themselves to the community and answer questions from the public. Perhaps the unnamed individual who "had no idea where either one of the [candidates] stood on any issue" would benefit from attending the SBNC's open forum.

Third, the risk of Board elections being coopted by "private agendas" is much greater with contested elections than with the SBNC process. The SBNC process is explicitly fair and non-partisan, guided by a neutral set of posted rules and procedures, and with elected members representing every neighborhood in Edgemont and a wide diversity of backgrounds and opinions. The SBNC even has a high school student that is a formal designee and voting member. The public campaign, on the other hand, leaves the door open to those who would co-opt the election in order to further political agendas that are unrelated to the board candidacies, and even unrelated to Edgemont. This scenario played out starkly when the author conducted a public campaign two years ago, when a small number of Edgemont community members attempted to portray the school board election as a referendum on Edgemont incorporation. This was not only a false portrayal, but a calculated attempt to use the public debate to further an anti-incorporation agenda, with no regard for the detrimental impact that such an attempt could have had on our treasured school system.

Fourth, it is not true that "a Nominating Committee runs contrary to what a democracy is all about." The SBNC process indeed closely resembles democratic processes used commonly in our country. We do not, for instance, select our federal judges through direct election. Rather, we directly elect our Senators, who are charged with vetting and confirming or rejecting the President's nominees for the federal bench. Our SBNC process, in which SBNC designees are directly elected by community members through their civic associations and are charged with vetting and recommending school board nominees, is notably similar.

Fifth, the SBNC process does not discourage diverse candidates from stepping forward to run for the Board; indeed, the opposite is true. A harsh public campaign deters qualified school board candidates from running. It already takes a considerable amount of self-sacrifice to commit the time and effort necessary to serve on the school board. Add to that the potential that candidates would be subject to public attack of a personal nature by one's neighbors, and it is understandable that qualified candidates would hesitate to step forward. True, Edgemont did not "fall apart" when the author ran outside of the SBNC system, but we may never know how many qualified candidates decided that it would be better not to seek nomination to the School Board as a result. Through the SBNC process, candidates can present their qualifications in a civil, deliberative, thoughtful vetting process. Candidates that are not recommended by the Committee are almost always well-qualified and certainly have demonstrated commitment to the community by stepping forward for Board service. Such candidates are encouraged to, and often do, step forward in future years.

The best way to incent the best candidates to agree to serve on the school board is to preserve and continue the civil, inclusive and deliberative SBNC process, and to encourage all in the Edgemont community to participate in it. The historic success of the SBNC process is evident in the highly qualified school board members who have been nominated by the SBNC, and in the thriving of our schools under Boards with members elected via the SBNC process over the past 50 plus years.

Marc Ackerman, SBNC Chair

 

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