Thursday, January 21, 2010

Outside the box

Patty Bode's chilling diatribe
So my friend Mr. Morse accused me of "obsessing about the Open Meeting Law"--even though as a (grumpy) prosecutor he should appreciate that the state has agreed with me more often than not on both Open Meeting Law and Public Documents appeals after initial stonewalling from town officials.

But even a zealot like me has to question a guest column in today's crusty Bulletin, one of many attacking School Committee black sheep Sanderson and Rivkin's overly dramatic Column two weeks ago comparing the abuse they get for speaking their minds and questioning authority to the Bush administration questioning the patriotism of critics at a time when patriotism was considered a good thing.

Patty Bode, a former Amherst teacher naturally, worries that Sanderson's blog could violate Open Meeting and Public Documents because it discusses "school committee business" outside the arena of a school committee publicly posted meeting, and that her blog attracts a high number of Anons who could very well be other school committee members thus creating a quorum.

And she also worries about certain postings that have been "disrespectful and slanderous to school personnel," but fails to give any examples. Kind of ironic considering her slanderous charge that some fellow School Committee members could be masquerading as Cowardly, Anon, Nitwits in order to circumvent the Open Meeting Law.

And would that really be a violation anyway?

The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure that business is transpired in public. So what the Hell does Bode think a blog is? A private little antiquated listserve? A smoke filled backroom? Sanderson teaches aerobics so it's a safe bet she doesn't smoke. A blog is the public arena.

Bode closes with the question, "Why would a public official want to establish a forum that tolerates disrespectful communication?"

Well how about that most basic, fundamental, bed rock American value: the First Amendment!
Don't stray from the flock!

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fck Bode.

Anonymous said...

Bode added to our growing list of liddle cridders...

Anonymous said...

Amherst, a community full of educational institutions where people's capacity to play out their political gambit exceeds their ability to think it through clearly.

Anonymous said...

I knew that my crack about OML would set him off.

The Commentary page of today's Bulletin needed a giant masthead that read "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK".

I used to think that the phrase "educational establishment" was a facile one, sort of like "black community", that both phrases presuppose a reality that's not there. But today's and last week's Commentary page makes me wonder.
How else to see the scope and scale of the pushback to one Bulletin column from Sanderson and Rivkin but as evidence of an "educational establishment" in town? And is it possible to be seen as both a supporter and a critic of Amherst public schools? Maybe not.

So the next question is about the balance of power of politics in town: Is Amherst of, by, and for the educational establishment or is it of, by, and for the voters and residents of the Town? Or, given the context of majority rule, are those one and the same?

What the Sanderson critics are not getting, I think, is that there may be an essential synergy between her questioning and challenging within the School Committee and the willingness of voters to approve an override. Instead of seeing that, they seem to be committed to driving her and her friend Steve off the field. That very well might be a completely Pyrrhic victory for them. Beware of a public thoroughly dispirited about the potential for oversight by elected officials of our governmental institutions. No override votes coming from folks with that mindset.

As a resident of a neighborhood with lots of retirees and property taxpayers on fixed incomes, I think that there is not yet a full appreciation among those with the burden of proof on an override of the level of skepticism out there, especially about the schools, especially among taxpayers who have gotten their kids through the schools and are done with that.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LarryK4 said...

Yes Mr. Morse, a "scorched earth" policy for sure: either beat them into submission, or marginalize them.

Like Mr Tierkel's stupid "petition" to support an Override (with no dollar number on it), this too will backfire.

In fact, it already has.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, it already has."


Yes indeed.

LarryK4 said...

Hell hath no fury like the blogosphere scorned.

Ed said...

I haven't had a chance to read it, but SCOTUS came down today with an interesting decision kinda related.

I think you are going to find an increasing defense of free speech as individuals, even if the individuals are elected officials.

After all, remember the two selects who were married to each other? Is there anyone seriously arguing that the public had the right to be there in their bedroom? And so too here -- the law says THREE for a reason and exactly how does a blog violate either the public meeting or public records law?

You want to know what is said - go look. You want a copy - hit "print." And if you don't have a computer, the folks at the Jones Library are quite helpful and have lots of computers....

This is the sort of thing that I have seen at Planet UMass for years -- don't like the issues that someone is raising, attack him (or in this case, her).

As all good and decent people must think as we do, anyone who is different must be defective. Must be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or whatever. Also must be mentally ill and stupid and dangerous.

Folks, it is called "Fascism" and many of those who consider themselves to be oh-so-Liberal are actually quite Fascist.....

As much as I hate citing Wikipedia as a source, I would encourage all to read:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism#Authoritarianism

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I forgot to mention Ms. Bode's other asinine gem: "While the activity of blogging is an exciting electronic mode of democratic dialogue for people who have access to computers..."

Who does not have access to a computer in this modern age--especially in overly educated Amherst?

And yes, the Jones Library provides them for free.

Anonymous said...

When I see either Mr. Kelley or someone else citing the OML against someone in particular in town, I know that there's some other agenda involved.

Like Mr. Tierkel's angry letter earlier, Ms. Bode's column essentially says to Sanderson and Rivkin, "Just shut up." I note that she makes no mention of the writings of Andrew Churchill in the Bulletin, or to the participation of various elected officials on Sustainable Amherst's Email listserv, also utterances that pose a similar "danger" to the imaginary one that she cites in her column. It's really about what is being said and who the speakers are.

The obsession about Open Meeting Law is usually in service of other interests, to stifle and to repress a particular point of view.

And, to use your syntax, Larry, "you, of course, Mr. Kelley should know", we have something that citizens take for granted: prosecutorial discretion. I suspect that Mr. Kelley's latest letter to the state will go nowhere, and I expect he will be spinning that negative result in his favor soon.

There's a purpose for the OML, but it's not intended to be an instrument in political warfare. And I suspect that the officials at the receiving end of these letters understand that.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, well, I have not been charged with filing a false report yet (and God knows I have filed a lot.)

Although I doubt my spin on this will take place "soon".

I still have not heard back from the state on my Public Documents complaint from a year ago regarding a fired I.T. worker who complained to the Town Manager in an email (and copied it to the entire Select Board) about work conditions.

Anonymous said...

We love the sheer breadth of topics that show up on this blog, which is why we keep reading. The blogmaster is frequently ahead of the papers.

And then we tolerate the complete inability for the blogmaster to maintain any relative perspective on those topics. Some issues are big, some are not, but it's all presented in the same booming smart-alecky "over the top" style.

For example, in the end, the whole "Anne Awad photos from the public way" flap was about nothing, despite the aura of ethical rectitude that Mr. Kelley brought to it. And then, of course, she made it worse, which delighted Larry.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

As long as you keep reading...or not.

Ed said...

For example, in the end, the whole "Anne Awad photos from the public way" flap was about nothing, despite the aura of ethical rectitude that Mr. Kelley brought to it

I disagree.

When you have someone able to use a person's protected status (in this case gender) to preclude him from the public discourse, that is significant. Every bit as posting "Whites Only" above the door in a meeting room.

Larry Kelly did what Howie Carr did to (Boston Mayor) Kevin White back in the 1970s. The only difference here was that Awad was able to claim gender so as to trump free speech.

A similar thing is sorta being done to Catherine Sanderson -- instead of countering her concerns with facts, people choose to call her a racist. I don't think she is, any more than I think that Larry Kelly was going into the bathrooms to look at little boys, but why bother worry about troublesome muckrakers when we can simply destroy them with bigoted prejudice?

Ed said...

FIRE posted this on today's SCOTUS case - it also applies to local politics. SCOTUS is defending free speech -- and that includes a certain professor's blog...

Ed
===

Today the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, slip op. (Jan. 21, 2010), one of the more important First Amendment cases decided in the last several terms. The case involves campaign finance reform legislation, but its reasoning is directly applicable to speech issues on college campuses. In invalidating provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), the Court in Citizens United reaffirms the importance of the "open marketplace of ideas" in our liberal democracy. The Court's ruling today also repudiates the view that certain speakers must be limited in their speech in order for the voices of others to be adequately heard.

Citizens United involves the production of a disparaging documentary about Senator Hillary Clinton by a nonprofit corporation, Citizens United, which wished to air the video before the 2008 presidential primary elections. The nonprofit sought a declaration that distributing the video would not violate the BCRA, which prohibits corporate expenditures on any communication about a political candidate that airs 30 days before a federal election.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion held that the BCRA violated the First Amendment insofar as it banned political speech based on the corporate identity of the speaker. According to the Court, the government cannot exclude a certain class of speakers from political debate. Although even under the BCRA corporations may set up separate Political Action Committees to fund "electioneering communications" using money from shareholders who wish to contribute, the Court found this process too burdensome on corporations. Under Citizens United, corporations are now permitted to use shareholder money to directly advocate for a candidate through campaign expenditures. However, Citizens United did not overrule prior cases limiting direct contributions to candidates. It also upheld the BCRA's disclosure provisions, requiring that the source of the electioneering communication be named during the communication.

In overturning the BCRA's expenditure limitations, the Court took the dramatic step of overruling the prior Supreme Court case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), which had upheld campaign finance provisions similar to the BCRA. The Court in Citizens United disavowed the reasoning in Austin that the government had a compelling interest in "antidistortion" of political speech. Thus, Citizens United repudiated Austin's logic that certain speakers can be considered "too powerful" based on "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth." The Court thus explained that "Austin interferes with the ‘open marketplace' of ideas protected by the First Amendment."

How, you may ask, does the Court's interpretation of the First Amendment as prohibiting the government from suppressing certain speech in order to silence speakers who are "too powerful" relate to FIRE? The relevance lies in the fact that universities and scholars often use a similar "antidistortion" rationale in advocating for speech codes that prohibit offensive or derogatory speech, especially when those codes concern sensitive or controversial topics. The finding in Citizens United removes a great deal of the support for their view that certain speakers and certain messages should be silenced in order to allow others to feel more comfortable speaking. Although courts already consistently overturn speech codes, Citizens United bolsters the view that the First Amendment does not permit such favoritism among speakers or undue interference with the marketplace of ideas, and that is likely to pay dividends down the road for liberty on campus.

Ed said...

FIRE posted this on today's SCOTUS case - it also applies to local politics. SCOTUS is defending free speech -- and that includes a certain professor's blog...

Ed
===

Today the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, slip op. (Jan. 21, 2010), one of the more important First Amendment cases decided in the last several terms. The case involves campaign finance reform legislation, but its reasoning is directly applicable to speech issues on college campuses. In invalidating provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), the Court in Citizens United reaffirms the importance of the "open marketplace of ideas" in our liberal democracy. The Court's ruling today also repudiates the view that certain speakers must be limited in their speech in order for the voices of others to be adequately heard.

Citizens United involves the production of a disparaging documentary about Senator Hillary Clinton by a nonprofit corporation, Citizens United, which wished to air the video before the 2008 presidential primary elections. The nonprofit sought a declaration that distributing the video would not violate the BCRA, which prohibits corporate expenditures on any communication about a political candidate that airs 30 days before a federal election.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion held that the BCRA violated the First Amendment insofar as it banned political speech based on the corporate identity of the speaker. According to the Court, the government cannot exclude a certain class of speakers from political debate. Although even under the BCRA corporations may set up separate Political Action Committees to fund "electioneering communications" using money from shareholders who wish to contribute, the Court found this process too burdensome on corporations. Under Citizens United, corporations are now permitted to use shareholder money to directly advocate for a candidate through campaign expenditures. However, Citizens United did not overrule prior cases limiting direct contributions to candidates. It also upheld the BCRA's disclosure provisions, requiring that the source of the electioneering communication be named during the communication.

In overturning the BCRA's expenditure limitations, the Court took the dramatic step of overruling the prior Supreme Court case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), which had upheld campaign finance provisions similar to the BCRA. The Court in Citizens United disavowed the reasoning in Austin that the government had a compelling interest in "antidistortion" of political speech. Thus, Citizens United repudiated Austin's logic that certain speakers can be considered "too powerful" based on "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth." The Court thus explained that "Austin interferes with the ‘open marketplace' of ideas protected by the First Amendment."

How, you may ask, does the Court's interpretation of the First Amendment as prohibiting the government from suppressing certain speech in order to silence speakers who are "too powerful" relate to FIRE? The relevance lies in the fact that universities and scholars often use a similar "antidistortion" rationale in advocating for speech codes that prohibit offensive or derogatory speech, especially when those codes concern sensitive or controversial topics. The finding in Citizens United removes a great deal of the support for their view that certain speakers and certain messages should be silenced in order to allow others to feel more comfortable speaking. Although courts already consistently overturn speech codes, Citizens United bolsters the view that the First Amendment does not permit such favoritism among speakers or undue interference with the marketplace of ideas, and that is likely to pay dividends down the road for liberty on campus.

Anonymous said...

Larry learn the difference between false and meritless.

LarryK4 said...

Like the difference between Anons and Cowards, and Nitwits! Oh my!

Ed said...

I am disgusted.

I read the _Bulletin_ and I am disgusted - why is it that no one understands basic logic anymore?

First, the School Committee does not have the authority to dictate what its members may or may not do. That would be the tyranny of the majority.

Second, the board has every right to set educational policy, including the selection of textbooks. The Superintendent is to supervise, to do what the board wishes.

Third, why is it that teachers, who have no problem evaluating (grading) others so freak out when others seek to evaluate them? Why is it that the customers -- the taxpayers -- have no perceived right to ask what they are getting for their money?

Fourth, if mixed-ability English is good, why not mixed-age as well? How do the brighter kids benefit from being dragged back by those who can't keep up?

Why?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ed.

It's a question underlying almost all of the deterioration in public education: why do teachers "so freak out when others seek to evaluate them?"

I think the answer is: because there's something deeply, deeply personal about teaching and each individual's approach to it (a little like each individual's unique approach to his or her marriage, for example).

And, for employees of any public, taxpayer-funded enterprise, that answer is not good enough. But that resistance to public evaluation is there and it's real. And it's killing our schools long-term.

We already have public school systems, some in this area code, that no one in their right mind with the means to do otherwise would send their kids to. That condition develops gradually over time, like the proverbial frog on the stove with the heat being turned up slowly.

I think that there's another approach to Amherst schools besides "love 'em or leave 'em". But maybe not.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

You obviously never had the pleasure of having your kids taught by Bode. She is a skilled and devoted teacher and a passionate advocate for the arts... Amherst was lucky to have her in its faculty.

The complete lack of respect that the blog administrator allows to go on is getting ridiculous. comment 10:50am should have been removed. unless you really don't care about civil discourse....you're really all about the anger. Anonymously yours.

Ed said...

The complete lack of respect that the blog administrator allows to go on is getting ridiculous.

Sorry, this is Larry Kelley' blog.

Ed said...

I think the answer is: because there's something deeply, deeply personal about teaching and each individual's approach to it (a little like each individual's unique approach to his or her marriage, for example).

Why do we tolerate this from teachers but not other professionals? We have no problem asking quite impersonal questions of doctors about how they practice their profession. We don't mind accusing police officers of "racial profiling" without ever having ridden with them in their cruisers. We can evaluate every other profession on the basis of performance but not teachers?

Further, a marriage is personal to the partners. Private sector employment is private to the company. Public sector employment is inherently public. You do not get to do things in secret, everyone has the opportunity to critique what you are doing.

Anonymous said...

"You do not get to do things in secret, everyone has the opportunity to critique what you are doing."


In Amherst, it's all about the secrecy.


Why is that?

jrn said...

I know Patty Bode and her family, and I am appalled by some of the comments on this blog. "Fck Bode"? "liddle cridders"? She is a hard-working, kind person with a keen intellect.

Larry, you regularly excoriate people who comment anonymously. Please follow your example and excoriate the people at the top of this post who simply name-call and make personal attacks.

LarryK4 said...

Okay, fair enough. Listen up Anons: play nice will ya.