OPINION – It’s been nearly a year since members of the school board for the Iron County School District made the decision to approve the purchase of a building near the district’s headquarters on Royal Hunt Drive in Cedar City.
Questions have now arisen as to whether the school board overstepped it’s authority in the way in which it authorized the $1.6 million expenditure.
The questions are being raised by Doug Hall of the Iron County Alliance of Taxpayers and they take aim at whether school district administrators and members of the school board may have violated the state’s Open and Public Meetings Act.
In particular, Hall is asking the state auditor and the state attorney general’s office to determine whether the district violated the law by failing to tell the public that they were going to vote on the purchase and also failed to record the meeting for the public record.
State auditor John Dougall has stated that the Open and Public Meetings Act requires that the public know what will be discussed in these meetings and any actions the board or government body will be taking at the meetings. This is how accountability and transparency in government are maintained.
If the district’s actions are found to be in violation of the law, Dougall said the entire purchase may have to be redone.
It is undeniably within the power of a local school district to make property purchases to accommodate growth and infrastructure. But because they will be using taxpayer money to repay the loan they agreed to take out, the taxpayers authority must also come into play.
Joseph Sobran once reminded us that authority and power are not the same things. The reality is that authentic authority is often a check on those who hold power. The basic principle of authority, as it pertains to government at every level, is that there are constant rules or truths that even the most powerful should obey.
This includes accountability and transparency to the taxpayers when making large expenditures. It’s not so much a matter of the taxpayers micromanaging school district official as it is a matter of remembering who works for whom.
A lot of people who understand the need for accountability and transparency in government still get a bit queasy when challenging public educators on the local level. This is understandable in that the public school system is viewed much more sympathetically than other government entities.
The impact of the public education sector on local economies is bigger than most of us realize. In most counties in Utah, the county school districts are consistently numbered among the top employers. This means that a lot of livelihoods are dependent upon the public education system.
It also translates into a considerable amount of political power that can be organized and motivated to put pressure on the state Legislature when it is considering education-related issues.
Even so, as a government body, the school districts work for the taxpayers – not the other way around. We cannot allow sentimentality to distort our understanding of this relationship.
Concerns have been raised that this is simply a witch hunt undertaken to embarrass or discredit public school administrators. Knowing some of the Iron County School Board members on a personal basis, this was a concern that crossed my mind as well.
I am not a strong supporter of compulsory government-administered schooling. However, my disagreements with the system do not extend to dislike of the people who currently run it. The members I know are truly good people who are without guile. But good people can also make mistakes.
This is why when I had the chance to interview Doug Hall last week, one of the first questions I asked him was, “what’s in it for you?”
His answer was that he stands to gain nothing from a political or financial standpoint if the attorney general’s office and state auditor find the Iron County School District was in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Hall stated that his ultimate goal is to have accountable and transparent government.
He had no personal bone to pick with board members or administrators, nor did he appear to be vindictive in his questioning of how the purchase of the new property was handled.
If anything, Doug Hall reminded me that it is incumbent upon every citizen to be actively engaged in their own governance at every level of government.
This includes actively knowing what our elected officials are discussing and the actions they are taking rather than waiting to read about it in the paper.
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Bryan Hyde is a morning commentator on Talk Radio 590 KSUB and an opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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