Friday, July 17, 2009

Monona in the News

Mike Ivey covers the cell phone/texting-while-driving-ban:

By the way, while this did not originate with me and the Public Safety Commission may disagree, my expectation is that any such ban would not apply to the use of 'hands free' devices.

And Gena Kittner covers chickens in the WSJ:

And Adam Mella reports in the Herald that the Monona Grove School board eliminates committees. My good friend and educational expert Dean Bowles supported the move and I expect that was probably pretty influential. He expressed the view that the Board has become 'factional', but I wonder if having all the discussion occur at the Board level will instead increase division.

Board President Susan Fox explains it in her letter to the editor.

How is the Board going to get the benefit of community involvement? There will be no more citizen members on committees because there will be no more committees. Yes, people can still speak at Board meetings, but that is not the same thing by a long shot as having community members involved in full discussions and making recommendations to the full Board. Committee members often offer insights and ideas that are extremely helpful.

Personally, I think this policy change is a mistake. Certainly, running a school system is different from running a city, but I cannot imagine abolishing our city committees. If the concern was that too many decisions were being made at the committees, then a different solution would be for the Board to give less deference to the advisory committees.

Peter Sobols blogs it:


  1. As I noted during the Board meeting on July 8, as well as in my letter to the Herald-Independent which accompanies Adam Mella's article, we have involved more community members over the past two years in ad hoc committees and task forces, where they serve as equal peers of Board members, than we have on standing committees in the last five years. Some citizens applied more than once to serve on standing committees and repeatedly were not selected. We believe there are better ways to involve more community members. Again, as I have noted, the Board plans to begin a continuous improvement process, develop a strategic plan, and pursue study and implementation of some curriculum initiatives, all of which will provide opportunities for community involvement to a greater extent than simply speaking at board meetings. Additionally, I would like to see the Board hold occasional listening sessions as well as to make some of our regular Board meetings "Big Ideas" meetings, where we focus on a topic to discuss among each other and members of the public who attend. Some of these meetings may involve outside speakers.

    Your suggestion that perhaps too much deference was being given to the advisory committees is, I think, a little off the mark. The concern was not so much that decisions were being made at the committee level and that therefore the Board simply accepted those recommendations. Rather, the concern was that the most in-depth presentation and discussion went on at that level, and then it all had to be repeated a couple weeks later for the full Board (duplication and inefficient use of time and resources thus became additional negatives). Most Board members attended most committee meetings in order to be fully informed, even though they couldn't participate in discussion. As a result, they often formed opinions before the actual Board meetings, where relatively less discussion took place. In other words, when people watched a Board meeting, they sometimes didn't feel the Board members had really considered issues thoroughly because they didn't hear the main discussion. Over the years, I have heard many complaints about this situation from members of the public. "They just vote with the administration," was a comment I heard often.

    Lastly, I encourage people to read my letter the the Herald-Independent, as well as the article by Adam Mella, in which the thinking behind not establishing committees this year is explained. The driving factor was a desire to improve the way the Board conducts its business. The decision not to establish the committees was not made because we felt we could find better ways to involve the public. Rather, we believe we can find find better ways to do so even without them.(By the way, we left the relevant policy in place and so can choose to establish them next year or at some other time in the future.) If you still have questions, give me a call or send an email.
    -Susan Fox, President, MG School Board

  2. "...mainly because the agricultural usage was not consistent with residents’ expectations in an urban setting like Monona, said Paul Kachelmeier, Monona’s planning and community development coordinator."

    Monona = Urban?? Bwaaaahahahaha. Ok, just because we've got "City" in our name doesn't make it so. Last I checked I actually have grass not only in my front yard but in the back, too! Trees exist without being confined by metal railings, children can walk in the streets without being run over by thousands of yellow taxis and there are better ways to get fresh air than by sitting on your fire escape.

    Lets face it, Monona is closer to Rural than Madison is, and they've had their chicken ordinance for years now with almost zero complaints. I'll be at the meeting on Monday along with my wife, we may not keep chickens even if the ordinance passes (we both travel too much) but jeez, allow people to keep them if they want!

  3. I share your views, Doug on the standing committees- it is really too bad to see them go- the school board, and the city council needs continuous public input, and if the system was not working well, they should fix the system of public involvement, not eliminate it. And while I respect President Fox writing in here to explain, it is all theoretical and hypothetical right now.
    HOW does she plan to "provide opportunities for community involvement?" Does this expand beyond her own community of supporters? HOW does she plan to keep the district updated? Rather than walking in parades and serving ice cream, I would like to see her have a column in the paper every week updating the community on the board goings on, and especially outlining the ways that the public can get involved. Yes or no, Ms. Fox?

  4. I do have concerns with this too. That is a lot of info for 7 people to weed through. I have more confidence in the current board and superintendent than ever before but that is a lot choices to weed through.

    I did have the impression that a certain percentage of people had volunteered for committees with an agenda and they were less than open to consider options that deviated beyond their agenda. In ways, I am OK with taking the power away from people who seemed partial to their ideas only.

    I guess we will see if the board will become more transparent with this option. I am willing to give it a year and re-evaluate things afterwards.

    I trust Craig Gerlach and he had done a great job (in my opinion) so hopefully he will put a stop to this idea if it doesn't seem to work.

  5. On one hand this is none of my business-as Craig Gerlach said during the meeting-how the board wants to govern itself or administer is up to the current board.
    Yet-I DO NOT C how this will rid the board of divesness? As one who watches and goes to meeting-I think this will create more divness.

  6. "On one hand this is none of my business-as Craig Gerlach said during the meeting-how the board wants to govern itself or administer is up to the current board."

    That may be true for the Suprintendent (personally, I would want his input if I was on ther Board), but how the Board operates is most certainly 'our' business as voters.

  7. Craig did provide his input; he said board governance is largely an issue for the board alone, but he did urge the board -- if it dropped the committees -- to have a well-thought-out plan for how the board would govern in the future. It's not clear -- beyond the full board apparently meeting twice a month now -- how that will occur; it may be a work in progress.

    Doug, you're right in saying the community does have a stake in how the board operates. It's the board's responsibility -- not the superintendent's -- to make sure the board operates effectively. This change has been pushed by the board president from the perspective that it will improve the board's efficiency, and help foster better long-range planning. If it doesn't do those things, those on the board who pushed for, and voted for, this change need to be held accountable by the voters.

  8. re: It's the board's responsibility -- not the superintendent's -- to make sure the board operates effectively.

    I don't see this move as making things more effective either. It could make one side get their way, with less debate. If that side "calls to question" right away things could go faster, but I'm not convinced that makes things "effective."

    Plus if the board has to do the busy work now, things are just going to take longer, and fewer people will care. The big decisions will take place at 2 am.

    Finally, did the public really think the board wasn't providing information at the meetings, or did the school board.

    I can see how if you talk to someone who doesn't know about an issue, you could think the board/committees were not communicating information well. But another person's lack of interest (compared to yours) doesn't mean it's not heard, it could just mean it's not as important to them.

    Finnally, from the look of this Blog, not everyone in the community thinks it was a good idea. It seems that the Board made this decission with little public input, and no debate on a committee, and rushed something through that some people disagree with. Not a very good start on being transparent.

  9. I absolutely agree with the above poster. Frankly, I am sick and tired of folks running on a platform of transparency, and then not actually taking any concrete steps towards it. This decision takes public/staff input out of any equation except through "3 minutes" and by invitation. At least with committees, a variety of voices were heard from and allowed to be a part of the discussion. Too bad this new "transparent" team of leaders did not ask the public what they thought before they cut the public off.

  10. Its not about transparency, its about control. Eliminating the committees gives the new board president 100% control of the board's agenda.

  11. That seems a bit over-the-top.