I have been a part of four community caucuses and two years ago chaired the District 200 Caucus. I believe that, facilitated objectively, the caucus process serves the community well and should be continued.
The high school PTO has the responsibility to get the caucus initiated. To that end, in June, 2006, at the request of Barb Nelson, PTO president, I personally sat down with Barb and Ms. Werner. We discussed at length the spirit behind running this caucus, and I provided Ms. Werner with extensive materials, a timeline and the protocol. The caucus has always interviewed the candidates in the fall to give them adequate time to file their papers, raise campaign funds and gather a campaign team. However, Ms. Werner, rather than convening the caucus on time, met with the PTO in the fall and suggested it be disbanded. The PTO Executive Committee then met in an emergency session, confirmed that a caucus should take place and told Ms. Werner that. It is disingenuous for her to suggest that only after she served her term did she “come to the decision that the caucus should be discontinued.”
The caucus has been convened prior to the filing period to give candidates an opportunity to meet community members, explain their positions on a variety of issues, and determine, if not slated, whether they wished to go forward and file papers. If not slated, their name would not be exposed to the public via a caucus press release. To what end would we want to potentially embarrass someone who is willing to give their time and effort to the community?
Ms. Werner states that the entire caucus process is confidential. This is not true. In fact, the caucus by-laws specifically state that only “the content of all interview sessions shall be kept in complete confidence.” After the slating process concludes, the names of the caucus members are published. Ms. Werner has refused to divulge these names, as well as where and when caucus meetings would be held, despite many attempts to get her to divulge this information. Why did she shroud this caucus in mystery?
The caucus is charged with holding serious and genuine conversations with the candidates. The caucus members should represent their fellow citizens on all issues facing the district, without slanting on single issues. The caucus should look at the complement of skills and expertise of sitting board members and determine how to best balance and augment the board. Interviews should explore the achievement of all students, as well as the community’s financial concerns. This year, the superintendent search process, a new governance model and hiring a new principal are key district issues and were not addressed, according to the aforementioned article. How can the community take seriously any process that was done in total secrecy? Ms. Werner speaks of accountability and its importance. On that point we agree. However, this caucus demonstrated no accountability whatsoever.
I disagree with the notion that the caucus process is political. The candidates do not run on political party platforms. They choose to run their own campaigns and get elected by the voting public. However, without some group undertaking an objective analysis of the candidates’ positions, background and knowledge, the public will be left to decide without having any information unless they undertake their own detailed investigation. Who has time to do that?
We need to put real accountability back in the process.