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  • Last modified 74 days ago (Jan. 9, 2019)

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Would you believe it’s
Be Kind to Editors Month?

One thing you quickly learn in the news business is that there’s a day, week, month, or year for virtually everything in society.

Radon Action Month? As a news release from the governor breathlessly announces this morning, we’re right in the middle of it.

According to various sources — including morning show hosts hard pressed to find anything to say — it’s also Co-Dependency Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, Poverty in America Awareness Month, Braille Literacy Month, and, on a less lofty level, Hobby Month.

In the kitchen it’s Hot Tea Month, Oatmeal Month, Slow-Cooking Month, Soup Month, and Sunday Supper Month — all of which sound a bit more appetizing than the offerings in health care, where it’s Baby Safety Month, Blood Donor Month, Glaucoma Awareness Month, Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Birth Defects Prevention Month.

Mark your calendar: Coming up on the 25th will be National Intravenous Nurse Day. And all month we’ll be celebrating one of our favorites, National Constipation Month.

It comes as no surprise, perhaps, that this also is School Board Recognition Month. Look around at various newspapers and you’ll probably find letters from local school superintendents touting how wonderful and important school board members are.

Truth is, they are. In our increasingly leadership-starved society, they’re among the few individuals willing to serve.

While they may not put their lives on the line the way, say, volunteer firefighters do and aren’t called out in the middle of the night the way volunteer ambulance attendants are — though they used to be before school curricula were basically standardized nationwide — they still deserve our praise.

What they don’t deserve is what they got in many districts around the state: a fill-in-the-blank form letter sent to local school superintendents from the Kansas Association of School Boards urging the superintendents to put a few words in the blanks and submit the letter to local newspapers as a letter to the editor.

We don’t for a minute doubt that local superintendents actually are quite proud of the voluntarism demonstrated by local board members. What we question is whether that pride is tainted by an expression of support that takes only five minutes to cut and paste from pre-supplied documents.

Worse yet, the state association has actually created multiple toolkits to observe the occasion, including a nine-page handout with sample news stories, letters, and announcements to plant in local newspapers, post on social media, or add to school signs. They also have customizable certificates of appreciation to hand out to board members.

All of this comes from an association financed by the very people it’s proposing to honor with form letters sent to superintendents for whom the honorees are their bosses.

At minimum, it’s bureaucratically incestuous. At worst, it’s abusive. Where, after all, do you think all the money to do this pro-forma backslapping is coming from? Taxpayers’ pockets, of course.

We got one such form letter this week — identical, save for maybe half a dozen words and a list of local board members, to what we’ve seen published in many other newspapers statewide. In fact, it was almost exactly the same as form letters other state’s equivalents to our state’s school board association have sent out.

Somewhere, there’s probably one master public relations professional spewing out all this stuff for the entire nation and distributing it via layer upon layer of taxpayer-paid bureaucracy.

Whoever it is succeeded in one thing: At least we wrote an editorial this week saying what nice people school board members are. We’ll even say the same about other local officials, going so far as to include county commissioners, despite the lack of an official fill-in-the-blank proclamation for them.

That’s not to say we forgive any of them for all the time they spend conducting the public’s business behind closed doors, as commissioners did this week under the guise of doing personnel reviews. If the topic was about how an employee serves the public, it should be discussed in public not private. But we’ll save that battle for a future editorial.

The only thing we’ll suggest at this point is that we taxpayers might be more likely to send real letters of appreciation, not just fill-in-the-blank ones, if elected officials would adopt a new strategy on when they close the doors to the public.

That’s right, in addition to executive sessions closed to the public we’re proposing going behind closed doors whenever any elected official wants to snipe at some other elected official over something that really isn’t about how government does its job.

We were shocked last week, for example, when one county commissioner listed another’s job as “meter reader” when his job is actually a utility company’s “town operator,” with far more duties that simply reading meters. The same commissioner professed not knowing the occupation of another colleague, who is a retired bank employee.

Comments and questions about how government and its employees do their jobs are things all of us need to hear. Stuff like that might best be kept behind closed doors — or, at least, saved up to be used in relief after celebrating National Constipation Month.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 9, 2019

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