Monday, November 07, 2011

Sun falls in Richmond Heights

Whatever credibility newspapers have in making endorsements in electoral contests rests on three assumptions:

1. That newspapers have done their homework on any given contest by covering, researching and studying the issues and candidates;
2. That their endorsements are reasonably tied to the first assumption, and
3. That their endorsements are not the product of hidden agendas.

It was no surprise to us to learn that the Sun Messenger endorsed incumbent councilman Mark Alexander over sharp newcomer Nneka Slade Jackson. Nor was it an eyebrow raiser to read that neither of the two black men vying for election to the school board was endorsed.

But we think Richmond Heights residents should be greatly disturbed about the way the Sun Messenger conducted several of their endorsement interviews, and the abysmal way the paper has overlooked and/or underreported the dysfunctional and anti-student behavior of the school board majority. We find the paper’s default so stunning that it raises questions about whether the Sun Messenger is in league with the school board majority and city fathers or just incompetent.

Endorsement Interviews
When city council candidate Nneka Slade Jackson was interviewed jointly with her opponent, she was repeatedly encouraged to identify school superintendent Linda T. Hardwick as “controversial” and to identify the superintendent as the cause of the conflict with the school board. She was also asked her views about then Cleveland councilwoman Nina Turner winning a state senatorial party caucus for a vacant senate seat over State Rep. Kenny Yuko. That vote took place in 2008!

Perhaps equally stunning in 2011, Slade Jackson was asked about her ability to manage motherhood and the [part-time!] city council position simultaneously.

When Frank Barber Jr. was interviewed for the school board, the college professor was not asked a single question about his views on education. Instead he was asked repeatedly for his view about the relationship between the board and the superintendent, and invited time and again to point fingers at the superintendent.

The priorities of the Sun Messenger are clear: they favor the Superintendent’s removal. That was pretty much the sole qualification for their endorsement.

[Their pursuit of this objective is somewhat hindered in that there are three seats up for election this year but at most only two clear votes for removal among the candidates.]

While this concern was evident and paramount in their endorsement interviews, it somehow totally went unmentioned in the endorsement editorial.

The paper endorsed former board members Dori Mittinger and Terri Wade-Lyles with a wholly unsupported statement that “they deserve another chance to serve the district.”

Precisely why is that? Mittinger failed to complete her last term on the board, resigning her seat to become the school district’s business manager. She was not rehired when her contract expired.

Most telling of the Sun Messenger agenda was their failure even to mention that incumbent Bobby Jordan is running to complete the unexpired term to which he was appointed in April. Jordan has distinguished himself as a board member by his willingness to ask questions, challenge dubious board decisions, and object to attempts by the board majority to railroad through decisions based not on educational principles but on cronyism or other personal agendas.

Shrinking coverage
Somehow, the Sun Messenger endorsement editorial failed even to acknowledge that Jordan is in the race.

Richmond Heights residents should ask themselves why the Willoughby News-Herald, based in Lake County, provides more and better coverage  [see here and here as examples] of their school district and community than their supposed neighborhood Sun paper.

And they might also ask why the Sun Messenger has failed either to discover, investigate or report any of the following actions by  one or more  members of the current board majority, including: relentless micromanagement;  repeated improper intervention into personnel matters; the wholly inappropriate countermanding of the superintendent’s directives to her staff; the discharge of every central office employee who has supported the superintendent; their total abstention from or concern with sound educational policy; their profligate ways with public funds, including incurring, authorizing, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight against claims they engendered and have no hope of winning; their subversion of city resources by unlawful and inappropriate investigation of parents; or the fact that an incumbent board member has withdrawn his children from the district, may no longer live in Richmond Heights himself, and has failed to disclose this information publicly.

The shame of Richmond Heights does not rest solely or even principally upon the shoulders of a coach who was ill-equipped to lead his basketball team on or off the court. No wonder he thought he could conduct himself with impunity.

Here’s an unequivocal endorsement: for the resignation of Board President Josh Kaye within 24 hours of his receipt of the soon-to-be released findings from the Department of Justice and/or The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and/or the State Department of Education.  Failing his resignation, we would endorse his recall by the citizens of Richmond Heights.


Anonymous said...

Richard, I think these stories are of great value, even though they may impact only a small community, because they remind us what happens when community members don't pay attention and inform themselves.

Richard said...

@ Anonymous: I greatly appreciate your comment. Of course I agree wholeheartedly. As places like Richmond Heights struggle recalibrate to changing demographics and new economics, their citizens can be left in the lurch for news and information about their new or changing environs.
The circumstances can be breeding grounds for mischief if not mayhem.

Councilwoman Miesha Headen said...

During my 2009 endorsement interview with the Sun Messenger for Richmond Heights Council at Large, Robert Nozar asked me if I would be able to balance my duties on city council with my responsibilities as a wife and mother. He did not ask the same question of John Keyerlieber and Don O'Toole. The question was wildly inappropriate.