The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Friday, May 21, 2010

Down on Blogs

Some local politicians have managed to spark a political career for themselves by use of a blog. For example, Granby teacher Mark Bail had a popular blog that helped to propel him to a seat on the town selectboard. However, since he was elected his writing has all but stopped, with his most recent post being in April and the one before that in January.

Stephanie O'Keeffe of Amherst also launched her successful campaign for selectboard with a blog, which she stills keeps more or less up to date, although she has altered her writing to be a lot more dryly factual with a lot less of the gossipy style that first endeared her to the electorate. A blog she started specifically to deal with selectboard issues, was last updated in June of last year.

No doubt many of those voting for both those candidates did so with the assumption that they would continue to receive the same level of chatty insight from them about town affairs once in office that they did before the election. Perhaps Bail and O'Keeffe fully intended to do so as well, but if so, what changed their minds?

Politics is an insiders game, something every former outsider learns soon after the inauguration. Frankly, you tend not to be invited into the innermost circle of policy-making if your colleagues fear that you are going to blab everything that goes on among the politicians to the general public. For example Springfield School Committee member Antonette Pepe, although she never blogged, ran on a platform of greater openness and was never afraid to run to the media when she thought her fellow pols were up to mischief that the public needed to know about. As a result, she found herself not being informed when things were happening and not invited to any social events where members might gather and share inside information.

In the latest development in the politician's war against openness, Amherst blog-king Larry Kelley reports that the committee that runs the regional school system wants to know what restrictions can be legally placed on politician's blogs. Kelley explains:

So five local school committee chairs have officially requested in writing the District Attorney create guidelines about how and when a blog may or may not violate the Open Meeting Law--key word being "Open".

The irony simply abounds. The joint letter apparently was the idea of Shutesbury School Committee Chair Michael DeChiara, you know the guy who recently got the state legislature to pass a new law allowing towns to withdraw from school unions.

Shutesbury apparently had a beef with a shared Superintendent hiring a pricipal for only one year when most folks wanted them to get three. The issue caused Shutesbury to rethink Union 28 which shares the expenses of a Super between Leverett, Shutesbury, Erving, Wendell and New Salem.

So how is this any different than Amherst considering a withdrawal from Union 26 with Pelham where Amherst funds 94% of expenses and only has a 50% say in administration?

But back to the blogosphere. The issue of Amherst withdrawing from Union 26 has gone from obscure non-issue to raging controversy mainly because of the discussion on Catherine Sanderson's school committee blog.

The other School Committee chairs wonder if perhaps some Anons posting comments could be School Committee members thus potentially bringing together a quorum discussing something outside a posted public meeting.

Forgetting for a moment that a blog is public, these Chairs are not showing much faith in their fellow School Committee members if they honestly believe an elected public official would cowardly cower behind a cloak of anonymity.

The next question asks about the propriety of comment moderation where the blog owner could slant the discussion by nixing opposing comments. So it's the old "damned if she does, damned if she doesn't" routine?

What's a blogger to do? You can't allow Anon comments because it could be cowardly elected officials in disguise and you can't moderate comments because you could censor them. Hmm....

These phony concerns about blogging are really just a lot of hair-splitting blather designed to pervert the open-meeting law in order to use it as a club to beat into silence public officials who have the audacity to blog about what local officials are doing. God forbid that the public be as privy to what is going on as the political insiders. Actually there is really no reason for any official rules for blogging by politicians, because the simple standard is this: Any action that brings more information to the public about what the political class is doing is automatically GOOD. Any action that helps to obscure or hide information from the public is BAD. I don't think you need a law degree to tell the difference.

I have long believed that EVERY elected official should be required to keep a blog and to spend at least twenty minutes every day composing a post telling the public what they have done in the last twenty-four hours on the public's behalf. Any elected official that refuses to blog daily should be considered by the voters as violating the public trust. Indeed, a failure to blog should be considered sufficient grounds for removing that official from office in the next election.

An eerie silence has fallen over the University of Massachusetts with classes now over and the seniors graduated.

Here is a picture of the Old Chapel as it appeared in 1885.

Here it is this morning, one hundred and twenty five years later.

Some UMass students pull a prank on their roommate in this video. What is interesting is how in the conversation before the prank a student refers to "the crazy people that chill in Amherst."

What do they think is so crazy about Amherst? Maybe the students watch Amherst Cable TV.


Mike Henry said...

Those were two positive examples where their blogs weren't used against them in their political run. Or, at least not that I heard.

I mean no one wrote a letter to the editor quoting an obscure phrase.

Mary E.Carey said...

I like your idea about officials blogging!

LarryK4 said...

Right on Tommy. Blogging (when done properly) is the ultimate window into the soul.

What exactly is so bad about transparency?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you clarified the "fight censorship" intent as pertaining to politics. I knew that you were not going to get any support fighting against libedral pc censorship of conservative ideas.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hey, thanks for the support! I'm still trying to figure out how the public benefits from not knowing what elected officials are thinking -- which seems to be the intent of this letter. I plan to keep on blogging ... although I'm sure it is just a matter of time before someone files a lawsuit against me/my blog.