The Federal government shutdown has magnified the political partisan bickering in Washington. Unfortunately, over the last week, I have had a front-row seat to the local version – I’ll explain.
In the last Community Matters post, I mentioned that the League of Women Voters is conducting a Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidate debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 at the township building. Knowing that in the past a similar LWV debate was scheduled for the school board candidates, it struck me odd that no such event was planned for this year.
I was told that the reason that there was no scheduled TESD school board debate was that the LWV calendar was full and therefore could not accommodate the event. The explanation seemed plausible and I probably would have walked away from the situation except that two TESD school board candidates (Scott Dorsey (D) and Pete Connors (R)) approached me (separately) questioning ‘why’ there was no scheduled school board debate as both were interested in participating in such a forum.
This discussion of a ‘Meet the School Board Candidate’ forum occurred last week as I was completing last minute details for the Paoli Blues Fest. Between the Blues Fest and community street fair on October 5, the 9th Annual Historic House Tour the Saturday before and eye surgery in between, I was certainly not anxious to take on another ‘project’. However, believing that more people in our community need to be engaged in local issues and to ‘know’ the candidates before casting a vote next month, a debate/forum needed to develop. Without the assistance of the LWV or any other organization, I first contacted Tredyffrin Township to check available dates/times to hold the forum. To the credit of the Tredyffrin Township staff (particularly the township secretary Pat Hoffman) and the police department, township manager and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, I was given approval to hold the candidates forum on Saturday, October 26, 2-4 PM. If you are wondering why I approached the township for use of their building rather than the library or one of the schools – the answer is simple, cost. There is a fee to use the schools or the library for an event.
Once I had the day/time locked in, I gathered the email addresses of all eight TESD school board candidates, which includes incumbents Rich Brake (R) and Kevin Buraks (D). All eight received the same invitation to participate. With my contact information, I sent the following email to the eight candidates:
Dear Tredyffrin Easttown School District School Board Candidates,
‘Meet the Candidates’ forums are central to democratic processes and are an important element of civic action and engagement. In recent years, the League of Women Voters has held these forums for township supervisor candidates and school board candidates. The League of Women Voters will hold a debate for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidates on Saturday, October 19, 2 – 4 PM but a similar forum is not planned for school board candidates of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.
This type of forum establishes connections between candidates and residents; allows voters to make informed decisions on election day, gives candidates the opportunity to present their platforms on issues that matter to residents; and gives residents the opportunity to raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the successful candidate(s).
Utilizing a grassroots community organizational approach, there will be a ‘Meet the School Board Candidates Forum’ on Saturday, October 26, 2 – 4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn, PA 19312. All candidates for the T/E School Board are invited to participate in this upcoming forum. The purpose of this forum is to give school board candidates an opportunity to address a wide range of issues that affect our school district…
Appreciating that the moderator of the candidate forum needed to be a non-TESD resident, I contacted a friend who is an attorney and a financial planner. With no questions asked, he agreed to help. I then asked four residents (representatives from Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships) to serve on a committee to help with the planning, logistics, marketing, etc of the candidate forum. For the record, two were Republicans, one a Democrat and the fourth a non-US citizen. As a registered Independent, I looked more at choosing people that understood the local school board issues versus their party affiliation. These four individuals were enthusiastic and anxious to help with the event. As stated in my invitation to the candidates, I was utilizing a “grassroots community organizational approach” to this “Meet the School Board Candidates” forum.
Of the eight school board candidates, I immediately received responses from five candidates (3 Republicans, 2 Democrats), offering support, appreciation for the effort, willingness to re-arrange personal schedules so they could participate, etc. With a moderator, a volunteer committee, a place, day/time and support from the majority of the candidates, I was feeling confident about this TESD school board candidate forum.
Then the rumblings from the local political parties started – I should mention, that my invitations went directly to the candidates, not the political parties that they represent. Believing that elected officials need to be independent-thinkers, it seemed the decision of whether to participate in this public community event should be up the candidates themsevles, without influence from the leadership of the respective political parties. Again, to the credit of many of these school board candidates, there was overwhelming support for the candidate forum.
What do I mean by ‘rumblings’ – I received questions about the format, where would the questions come from and how would the questions be asked, would questions come from the audience, (if so, how would they be categorized), would the process be ‘fair’ or biased to the Republican candidates or biased to the Democratic candidates, what political party were the volunteers, etc. etc. The rumblings started within 24 hours of my sending the invitations to the candidates – but it should be noted that not one of the five candidates who contacted me criticized or questioned my motives or my fairness.
About the time the local partisan politics started to surface, it mysteriously became known that the League of Women Voters schedule was not full and that they could accommodate a school board candidate’s forum. Imagine that! I knew if ever there was a moment when something was meant as a ‘sign’ this was it. It had become painfully obvious and very quickly, that no matter how I organized this candidates forum, either the local Democratic Party or the Republican Party (or both) was not going to be satisfied with my efforts or the results. The finger pointing had already started and it was only 24 hours since I sent the candiate’s their invitations. If a school board candidate debate was to happen, it was up to the ‘D’s’ and the ‘R’s’ to organize it with the League of Women Voters.
As a result, the following email was sent to the eight school board candidates:
TE School District Board Candidates —
I was working on scheduling a TESD School Board Candidate Forum on Saturday, October 26 for two reasons: (1) to provide an opportunity for candidates to present their platforms on important issues facing the TE School District and (2) to give residents the opportunity raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the candidates. A public forum to discuss school district issues is important. When I questioned why there was no school board candidate forum scheduled as in prior years, I was told that the League of Women Voters did not have availability on their calendar. Based on the information that the League of Women Voters was unable to schedule such an event (and having been approached by two school board candidates, a ‘D’ and an ‘R’), I moved forward to make the necessary arrangements for such a forum.
It has now come to my attention that the League of Women Voters is available for Saturday, October 26 to host the forum/debate for the school board candidates. To those candidates that contacted me either with a commitment to participate in the forum or a willingness to rearrange their personal schedules, thank you and your responses were most appreciated. Please know that as a community member and as a registered Independent, my only intention in scheduling a school district candidate forum was to engage more residents in our important school district issues and to allow candidates an opportunity to express their views on these issues. There was no personal agenda on my part.
The location, day and time for the school board candidate forum has been reserved for Saturday, October 26, 2-4 at the Tredyffrin Township Building. If you were interested in pursuing this opportunity with the League of Women Voters, I would encourage you to contact your local Republican and Democratic Party representatives.
Please accept my apologies for any confusion and best wishes for a successful campaign.
The moderator and committee members that I had contacted to help received the same update as the candidates. I thank these five volunteers for their support and willingness to help. So … where does the school board candidate situation now stand? It is my understanding that the leadership of the political parties is working with the League of Women Voters to organize a debate. The last update I received was that the plan was to schedule the school board candidate debate prior to the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19 at the township building. I look forward to hearing a confirmation on the date and time.
It remains unclear why the local Democratic and Republican parties scheduled the supervisor candidate debate with the League of Women Voters and did not do the same for the school board candidates. However, I am hopeful that the school board candidate forum will occur; that important school district issues will be discussed and that candidates can have the opportunity to present their view.
In closing, the last ten days has taught me one thing, … whether it’s elected officials in Washington or our local political parties, I recognize that I am no fan of the partisan sandbox. For me, it’s about understanding the issues and then supporting the candidate that best represents my views.