To hear him tell it, the carefully crafted and well-meaning work by a lot of hard working people has now been thrown away to please a small group of parents.
The letter he wanted me to print as a guest editorial was simply too long to fit, so I'll try to summarize his concerns as best I can. While we stand for genuine openness in government, there is also a need for reason and balance. I'll let you decide what to believe, but Christensen makes several points that merit our reflection: "This advisory planning group," he says, "was made up of a representative group of parents from each of the seven high schools, including members of School Community Councils and representative city officials...from each of the 15 cities within the county, the neutral voice of a PTA Regional Director, and representative voices of employee groups; 39 persons in all, meeting with a consulting facilitator /chairman and a parent designated co-chair. It was an intentional design to ensure open public input and democratic representation."
He says everyone realized this would be a difficult process and that emotions could run high, but he insists the Davis School Board has always been committed to an open process of public participation.
He is not pleased that the school district and the Davis Board of Education have been painted as being secretive "by a small group of community members, with volunteer legal counsel" and considers the judicial injunction against the school district to be a narrow interpretation of Utah's open meetings laws.
The views of a small minority, not the majority, are "exactly what is unfolding in a frenzy, unfriendly and untimely manner," he continues. "Instead of letting the process work and respecting the interests of the majority, many young people's futures are being held in abeyance because of the disagreeing and untimely viewpoint of a few.... Serious misinformation, from less informed, perhaps even disgruntled, voices have recently surfaced. Threats, accusations, misinformation and innuendoes have combined with little knowledge of reality, and with the services of an attorney and a court hearing, a quick temporary judicial decree, which appears now to have more influence and power over reason and valid information, and perhaps more power than open public communications and deliberation, and more power than a consensus-driven representative group process which solicited and responded to public input and the voice of the majority of interested citizens."
He laments that 10 weeks of intensive work by his committee was prevented from even being presented to the Board of Education.
And that, he says, was after four open houses which drew about 4,000 people -- plus input via the Internet, telephone voice messages, 2,000 e-mails, and more than 2,500 additional letters and personal communications. Even a long list of ideas from people within the school district was given consideration. Then the board was still planning to solicit additional public responses after viewing the report.
He adds that the school district used automatic phone messages to invite thousands of parents to attend the public hearings and mailed out 30,000 post cards as remind-ers and to solicit feedback.
"What's wrong with this picture?" he asks. "An appointed group of representative citizens...an 'advisory' group only, was not allowed to meet and discuss and present a 'recommendation' and has been declared in violation, on an interpretive technicality, of the Open Meeting Law."
The moral of the story, he says, is if people don't get their way after an exhaustive process that seeks to serve the widest range of needs, their tactic is to "confuse the issues, create a supposed technicality" and end the work of a large group representing the public's voice. "How can we get value-driven transparent representative public process to work outside the power of the voices of the unhappy few?" he asks. "This is a serious question and potential dilemma for any public organization. The public must be given opportunity for input, but not disruption."