Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Elected officials and vote abstentions

Much has been made of the issue of Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education candidate Teresa Thiel’s need to abstain from certain votes, if elected, because her husband is a teacher for the district. There have also been questions raised about whether she would need to abstain from certain other votes because of her employment as a CESA 6 grant writer (she does not need to, by the way). Though it has been discussed by some voters, it has been made an issue in public forums and candidate debates by fellow school board candidates Dan Becker and Michelle Monte. Now that Eye on Oshkosh has completed all its scheduled candidate interviews, I want to try putting this in perspective for readers/voters before the April 3 election.

The situation being what it is DID NOT preclude Mrs. Thiel from voting on approximately 96 percent of the issues which came before her when she served on the school board. Additionally, her need to abstain in those rare instances DOES NOT PREVENT HER from doing the work involved in actually developing the budget, etc. It ONLY affects her ability to vote on the budget, and that is only in certain cases. Mrs. Thiel can certainly better address this issue than I, and I think she has done so in a number of venues already, including Eye on Oshkosh, but here is where some common sense must come into play.

Mr. Becker has said voters have a right to expect a full-time board member and someone who can do 100 percent of the work. In the first place, no board member is full-time – they are all part-time positions, and as such, are paid accordingly. Moreover, Mrs. Thiel’s occasional abstention essentially counts as a “no” vote, meaning there needs to be one additional “yes” vote to “offset,” if you will, her abstention, in order to pass the budget. Given the fact that some board members have a history of not liking the budgets as presented (Mr. Becker included), it seems this would be a good thing from where they stand.

I would also suggest to you that it is rather hypocritical for Mr. Becker to complain that a board member may have to occasionally vote “present” or abstain on the budget vote when his own campaign message last year suggested you should vote “yes” for him so he can vote “no” for you. It seems to me that someone who so proudly states they will be a naysayer, is someone whose mind is closed and, therefore, is probably less effective than someone who occasionally must abstain from voting for legal reasons. (And don’t even get me started on the votes in April 2006 that Mr. Becker wanted to toss out during the recount. He talks about board members being able to vote on every issue, but clearly didn’t want every vote to count in another kind of setting.)

Mrs. Monte has also used the argument of being able to do 100 percent of the work. When she appeared on Eye on Oshkosh she “accused” Mrs. Thiel of cashing 100 percent of the paychecks when she was on the board, despite her occasional abstentions. I asked Mrs. Monte about her problem with Thiel’s occasional abstention and followed it up by asking her if she would be elected, and missed just one meeting for any reason, be it illness, work, or whatever, would she resign from the board or at least vow not to run again in the future. (After all, if we’re going to use her and Mr. Becker’s argument, such an absence would then make her unable to do 100 percent of the job and she should not serve either.) She did not answer that specific question, but instead, made other comments trying to defend her position.

While I have my choices for the school board, I will also say that all four candidates have some good qualities to offer. That being said, I think this issue of Mrs. Thiel’s “inability” to do 100 percent of the work is a ridiculous and petty argument being made by candidates Becker and Monte. The simple fact of the matter is that at one time or another practically every elected official needs to abstain from a particular vote or misses a meeting – and, as a result, all the votes on the agenda items scheduled for that meeting. That should not prohibit them from being elected to serve in a general sense. I would also venture to say that even though Mrs. Thiel has had to occasionally abstain from a vote, she has probably given more time and energy to the district than various other members of either the present or past school boards. One need not vote on 100 percent of the issues to give 100 percent or more of their effort and commitment to the district. I hope that voters will see this cheap ploy for what it is and exercise their own common sense on April 3. And if they choose to vote for someone other than Mrs. Thiel, that is their right; but I hope it would be for the some other reason and not something as silly as an occasional abstention.


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