Public Watchdog.org

Is D-64’s Videotaping Propaganda A Benchmark Of Overall Credibility?

08.29.11

Late last week a “blast” e-mail went out from School District 64 Supt. Philip Bender that included the following bullet-point:

  • I am pleased to announce that District 64 is now videotaping Board of Education meetings.   The videotaping is one of the ways the Board is enhancing the transparency of its operations and engaging stakeholders.  It also meets our Strategic Plan goal of accelerating the use of advanced technology.  Beginning with the August 22 meetings, the full-length videos can be viewed by selecting the meeting link on our website: http://www.d64.org/subsite/dist/page/board-education-meetings-984

To listen to that bit of propaganda, one would think that Bender and the School District 64 Board were in the forefront of promoting transparency and accountability of D-64 activities.

But as recently as the July 11th board meeting, Board member Scott Zimmerman – sounding clueless about the Illinois Open Meetings Act – branded the videotaping of meetings as “against school board policy,” while Bender insisted that he would need an opinion from the District’s legal counsel because he was “extremely uncomfortable that someone could manipulate and edit the video.”  With only newbie board member Anthony Borrelli speaking in favor of videotaping, it looked like it would be buried “in committee” for several months, if not longer.

Enter Marshall Warren and several other citizen activists (including Char Foss-Eggemann and Susan Sweeney), who showed up at the Board’s August 8th meeting with video camera in hand and videotaped that meeting on their own, uploading the video to a YouTube site appropriately labeled “sunshine4d64.”

As if by magic, the District had its own video camera up and running at the very next (August 22nd) meeting – and almost immediately its propaganda machine began shamelessly spinning the “transparency” credit away from the citizens and towards the District’s administration, as if videotaping were its idea all along.

The shameless deception can only be appreciated in light of the fact that even the TribLocal story dated August 26, 2011, carried the headline “Prodded by parents, District 64’s school board begins recording meetings,” and noted that, even after videotaping had been requested, “the district didn’t budge.”

For the time being, Warren et al. are planning to keep on videotaping while at the same time lobbying WOW to provide the camera and equipment for broadcasting D-64 meetings live as WOW recently did for Park Ridge City Council meetings.  And they should continue their own videotaping, given that the apathy and even outright antipathy D-64’s cast of characters (save for Borrelli) has displayed toward videotaping raises a possibility of some controversial segment of some future board meeting mysteriously disappearing into a “Rosemary Woods”-style, 17-minute gap.

Which brings us to the most important element of this videotaping saga: credibility.  Specifically, the credibility of D-64’s leadership.

If not for Warren and his merry band of activists, there is no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that D-64 would be videotaping its meetings – just like there was no way the City was going to videotape Council meetings until then-newly elected Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt donated a video camera and recruited George Kirkland and Charles Melidosian, thereby proving that it didn’t cost anywhere near the $120,000 City Staff had budgeted to start videotaping City Council meetings.

What would it have taken for Bender and the D-64 Board to have prefaced their propaganda statement with the words “In response to the requests from members of this community…”?  Only the willingness to start playing it straight with the citizens who have made Bender and his fellow D-64’s administrators the 4th highest paid in the State of Illinois, and D-64’s teachers the 25th highest paid teaching staffs in the state – according to a May 31, 2011, study published in the Chicago Sun-Times – while the academic performance of D-64 students doesn’t begin to approach either of those two lofty rankings.

But apparently that kind of honesty is too much to ask, either from the bureaucrats themselves or from the public officials known as the School Board we have elected to make sure those bureaucrats keep their collective thumb off the scale, so to speak.

Which should make all of us wonder: If D-64’s administration and board can’t be trusted to tell the truth about something as simple and innocuous as videotaping meetings, how credible and forthright can they be expected to be when it comes to the really big issues, like the $70 million-plus 2011-12 budget that is scheduled for approval next month, or the upcoming teachers contract negotiations?

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3 comments so far

You nailed it, PW. Credibility is what’s lacking from most government bodies, and D-64 has major credibility problems.

“Which should make all of us wonder: If D-64’s administration and board can’t be trusted to tell the truth about something as simple and innocuous as videotaping meetings, how credible and forthright can they be expected to be when it comes to the really big issues, like the $70 million-plus 2011-12 budget that is scheduled for approval next month, or the upcoming teachers contract negotiations?”

Isn’t that kind of a stretch? As you’ve often pointed out, people can become engaged in their government, attend meetings, etc. If people don’t trust their government, there are remedies to those issues.

I sense your personal animus towards the school board is clouding your objectivity on the issue. You achieved your goal — the meetings are being videotaped — let’s move on. I think you’re running out of material because you keep repeating the same 4-5 issues over and over.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our “objectivity” is just fine, thank you. And we have no “personal animus” toward any member of the D-64 board, or any member of its staff. We barely know any of them personally, so any “animus” toward them is purely a matter of governmental and political policy as reflected in their actions as public officials, based on their consistent efforts to conceal, prevaricate, misdirect and dodge any and all accountability for the inordinately high cost of the relatively mediocre product their governmental body provides.

We keep repeating the same 4-5 issues over and over because those issues are the essence of government that too many governmental bodies – including D-64 – can’t seem to grasp or deliver: honesty, integrity, transparency, accountability, and results. If D-64 was a business, not only would it be bankrupt, but even more of its customers would be shopping elsewhere than already do – as measured by how many taxpayers pay their taxes to support D-64 schools yet spend the extra thousands of dollars to send their kids to parochial or private schools. When we have the 4th highest paid administrators and the 25th highest paid teachers, yet have only one school arguably in the top 50 (or top 100, depending on whose rankings you follow), something’s rotten…and it’s a lot closer than in Denmark.

Dear Anon. 8.29 6:41 pm,

The publisher of this blog has some axes to grind, sure. That’s citizen journalism.

Now we can all “move on”, as you suggest, to what actually happens in school board meetings. Videotaping will uncover all sorts of interesting uses of taxpayer money, all of which should be examined, debated, and — yes — blogged. Those of us who can’t get to many meetings still can see what happens. This should reassure the school board and permanent staff as they can point to an objective record of what transpires. The truth will set us free.



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