July 9, 2014 10:52:20 AM
Tuesday's joint meeting between the Columbus City Council and the Columbus Municipal School Board was a modest first step.
For an hour, the city's five attending council members (Bill Gavin is out of town) and the school board engaged in a polite question and answer session. Columbus Mayor Robert Smith left after 40 minutes, citing a another commitment. The meeting lasted an hour and was attended by about 20 residents.
The discussions focused mainly on how each body could assist each other in the shared goal of making our city a better place to learn, work and live.
For its part, the board focused mainly on soliciting the council's help in securing grants, maintaining infrastructure around its schools and exploring ways to turn vacant school-owned facilities such as the Magnolia Bowl and Lee Middle School in revenue-producing sites.
Council members, meanwhile, were concerned about the schools' low state ratings and what is largely perceived as a broken relationship with the community.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, who had advocated strongly for the joint meeting, wanted to know if there was some way that area pastors could be directly involved in the schools, noting that the mere presence of the pastors in the hallways can have a big effect on conduct. He also advocated that the school district strengthen its relationship with the city's police department. Students should be plenty familiar with police; bomb threats at schools have made a police presence at schools almost a routine event. Karriem said having students and police get together under more positive circumstances would be of great value.
Board president Angela Verdell said the board welcomed the council's input and said she wanted to maintain an open line of communications between the school board and the council.
That is great, as far as it goes. We hope that those open lines of communication will someday extend to the citizens of Columbus as well. In fact, Karriem asked if the board could communicate with area pastors, so the latter could inform their congregants of what is happening in the city's schools.
Not to diminish the role of pastors in this respect, but the best, most effective conduit of information between the board and the community remains the media. While we have no knowledge of how Verdell, as board president, communicates with other media, the only communication Verdell maintains with The Dispatch is through press releases. Press releases are better than nothing, of course, but they are a poor means of providing meaningful information. Press releases do not accommodate follow-up questions. They do not allow for clarifications or expansion on the statements they contain.
This must sound like a broken record, we realize. For months now, we have appealed to the board to be open in its activities, to be accessible, not for our sake but for the sake of the community, which has a vested interest in the district. Attempts to keep the media "in the dark," keep the community in the dark as well.
We are perplexed on this situation because the board's refusal to speak to the media serves no one's interest. When the board remains stubbornly silent, the community's trust in the board is diminished. How can that possibly achieve a good result?
Much was said about the spirit of cooperation during Tuesday's meeting.
We are guardedly optimistic that this new spirit of cooperation will extend to keeping the community informed and engaged. The media remains the best available tool to achieve that goal.