Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - May 20, 2011

Guest Opinion

When the watchdog press fails to do its job

by Anne Fox

The role of the press is to provide checks and balances and a watchdog function on government. Rather than demanding accountability from Pleasanton Unified School District for again gambling away over $300,000 from its General Fund, the Weekly chooses to demonize citizen participation.

The editorial, "A majority vote loses out in Pleasanton," in the paper May 6 falsely proclaimed parcel tax elections would easily pass if decided by a simple majority vote. History shows, however, the first of three PUSD parcel tax elections (March 1996, $204 Measure A) failed to get even a simple majority positive vote; 55% of Pleasanton voters said an emphatic No.

Next, you failed to disclose the "game the system" strategy that districts use to pass tax measures. Rather than honestly gauging what voters want in maximum turnout November presidential elections, districts place tax measures on low turnout, single measure special elections on purpose. They target voters who would not have to pay the tax in order to convince a small minority group of the community to vote for the tax. After all, if a so-called "66.7% supermajority" is achieved in a special election with only a 37% turnout, the "supermajority" represents just a minority, i.e., less than a quarter of all registered voters.

PUSD gambled away $250,000 of scarce district funds in election fees to hold the special election and $85,000 in consulting fees. Your editorial stated "....we relied on the costly expertise of Mr. Heath and fellow consultant Bryan Godbe that this time, because of their surveys and campaign strategies, victory was a sure thing."

At the Jan. 25, 2011, poll analysis School Board meeting, the consultants indicated that only 49% of those polled responded "Definitely Yes." It was surprising to see "Probably" responses also counted as favoring the measure. Trustees Valerie Arkin and Jamie Hintzke asked excellent questions, but the three remaining trustees asked no questions and seemed to have had their minds made up already -- to pursue a parcel tax at any cost -- and launched into 15 minutes of off-topic speeches instead.

Rather than aiming your ire at a diverse collection of well informed citizens who care enough to get involved in their community, the Weekly should demand that PUSD take responsibility for its bad decisions.

Meanwhile, the Weekly should encourage the Board to listen to all constituents, have PUSD "step up" to cut administration salaries, stop $15 million in raises when PUSD cannot afford them, come clean on their unlawful cash-out refunding scheme, and stop caving in to union demands to save district office positions like the Health Liaison position. Priorities on positions and programs to be retained and eliminated should be driven by the best interests of the students as determined by the governing board, not by the unions.

After all, who is really in charge? Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog?

And speaking of dogs, when the press fails to fulfill its watchdog role, it fails our democracy. Blaming two to three citizens who speak at public meetings rather than elected officials, who failed not only to ask the right questions, but any questions, is outrageous.

Luckily, this is America, and thank goodness we have a free press. Watchdogs are very necessary. For the informed citizen, watchdog journalism beats lapdog journalism any day of the week.

Anne Fox is originally from Virginia where her father was the publisher and editor of three newspapers. She worked as a senior manager for Price Waterhouse in Washington, D.C., and three ERP software development companies that develop and implement large-scale financial management systems for education and government clients. Since she and her family moved to Pleasanton 15 years ago, she's been involved in multiple organizations including being a member of the PUSD Strategic Planning Committee. She recently served as a member of the Transit Oriented Development Hacienda Task Force.

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