Gassen: Let’s have TUSD’s Michael Hicks over for a fun slumber party

2013-08-15T00:00:00Z Gassen: Let’s have TUSD’s Michael Hicks over for a fun slumber partySarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Life would be so much easier if we didn’t have to actually do the jobs we say we want. I’d like to be a dairy-goat farmer. Goats are fantastic. They have a sense of humor, and few creatures are as unrelentingly joyous as a bouncy baby goat.

But I know that, realistically, I don’t have the fortitude to clean out the stalls as necessary. Deworming, hoof trimming, milking twice a day — there’s a lot to do, and a lot of it isn’t particularly fun.

I couldn’t do the whole job.

So no goat farming for me.

I mention this because, and not for the first time, TUSD board member Michael Hicks has made it clear that he’s really not all that interested in the public part of public office.

He’s dealing with a different kind of kid, yes, but it’s an apt comparison.

Hicks put forward an idea that would move what’s known, in governmental parlance, as the call to the audience from the beginning of the Governing Board meeting to the end. It failed, thank goodness, at the board’s Tuesday night meeting, but the effort to squelch public participation in the democratic process is disturbing.

The call is the 45 minutes at the beginning of the regular board meeting, and 20 minutes at the front of special meetings, when anyone can stand up and say his or her piece for three minutes.

The board, by law, can’t respond because state law also requires that the public be told at least 24 hours in advance of an elected body taking action on a specific issue. (That’s so the people whose tax money is being spent and are affected by a decision will know in advance the board will be discussing it.)

So many governmental entities — school boards, city councils, county supervisors — end up listening to speakers who aren’t complimentary. Speakers may use their allotted three minutes expounding on any manner of topics. Some are related to the business before the board at that meeting; some are not.

But that’s how it works. Because this is how board members learn things sometimes about a child being bullied on a bus, or a problem with a class or a suggestion on how the district could save a few bucks.

Sometimes it’s grandstanding, but is that so different from every elected official taking a few minutes, or longer, out of the meeting to compliment each other on their hard work or to explain why I, too, am voting in support of some mundane policy change?

It’s participation. And yeah, a lot of the time it’s boring. But it’s still important.

Hicks often leaves before the end of Governing Board meetings anyway — walking out on his duty as an elected official — and putting the audience call at the end of the meeting would mean he’d just leave before those pesky people start their time-wasting yammering.

“It’s hard for me,” Hicks was quoted by the Star’s Alexis Huicochea. “Before you know it, it’s 10 p.m. and I’m making decisions that will affect every child in TUSD, and I’m not making good decisions because I’m not functioning well because it’s late at night.”

But don’t get too concerned, because the public’s comment is irrelevant by the time the Governing Board meeting rolls around, anyway.

“If you’re coming to the meeting and we have an action item and we’re going to base our decision off of three minutes, you’re not doing your homework,” he said.

So ... which is it?

Politicians’ contempt for the public isn’t new, but they’re usually slightly more adept at hiding it. Hicks didn’t just magically end up on the TUSD board, you know. He campaigned for it, put up signs and all the rest. He told voters he wanted the job. People believed him.

Maybe there’s a way to work around this conflict between sleepy-time and the need to listen to the public. We just need to change how we think about these hours on Tuesday nights. TUSD Governing Board slumber parties.

We can do each other’s hair, listen to scary stories about the Arizona Legislature, watch PowerPoint presentations on school financing.

Come on — it will be fun. Democracy is better in your jammies.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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