The Asses in the Ergonomic Chairs

A commenter on “The Best Board Money Can Buy” asked if I’ve ever even been to a Huntsville City Schools Board meeting.

The answer is yes, and that my mood sours each time I walk in the boardroom. There used to be the big soft chairs. Now we’re too 21st century for such, and of course, flush with money, so the big soft chairs have gone to the dump and have been replaced by high-techy looking, ergonomically correct, breathable mesh, tilt and height adjustable at the touch of a finger chairs.Then there are the hard, narrow chairs. These remain.

It’s the same down in Montgomery, when I used to go to PACT meetings. On the soft chairs: elected State Treasurer at the time Kay Ivey, whose neglect and incompetence were largely responsible for the near-bankruptcy of the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition plan, and the ten grim men who enabled her. On the hard chairs: those of us who elected her and entrusted these fools with honoring the contracts we had purchased.

I have a problem with these boardroom configurations. Big expensive chairs on a pedestal for the few. Hard little desks or folding chairs for the masses.

Dear Colonel and the Board, my hind end is no more (or less) well padded than your own. My hour, like yours, has sixty minutes.

These furnishings suggest that the ones in the fancy chairs are more deserving than those in the hard ones, that they are the ruling elites. Being on a pedestal, looking down on the huddled masses, encourages complacency and induces amnesia in elected public servants.

They forget that they once had to go to the public and ask for votes — and money — and for folks to stick ugly little signs in their yards so that they could represent the people in the governance of the public’s school system. Once in the soft chairs, Blair, Morrison, McCaulley, Robinson, and Birney came to identify with the Colonel, the center soft chair, and to leave well behind the people who put them there.

I wrote Alta Morrison last week regarding the Pinnacle debacle. Did I get anything in return? I did not. Am I the only one so ignored? Hardly. Go have a look at geekpalaver who is running a little poll based on questions from one of his readers. Two pertain to attempts to communicate with these elected representatives. The answers show a dismal  basic lack of respect on the parts of these five people to their constituents. I wonder how much money you’d have to contribute to their campaigns to get the courtesy of a response: $500? $5000?

At your typical Thursday night meeting, after the done deals and in-jokes among the privileged few, there follows a condescending preamble to citizen’s comments proclaimed from on high, and then the commoners who previously submitted their names, ranks, and serial numbers are allowed three minutes a piece.

They come down the aisle like Oliver Twist. Those of us of a certain age (the one where clerks tell your kid to be nice to her granny) may remember the musical Oliver! (1968), based on Oliver Twist, a novel by Charles Dickens, an author who wrote long books that somehow we found time to read in high school.

Anyway, orphan Oliver and his fellow workhouse urchins are eating their small bowl of thin gruel in the workhouse while the institution’s board members are gorging themselves on a huge feast up on the pedestal in the soft chairs. The orphans would like a few more slurps of gruel that day, so they decide whoever draws the short straw will ask for seconds. This falls to Oliver, and all music stops as he makes the long walk to the microphone front of the room, and trembling says,  “Please, sir, I want some more.” 

The elite go ballistic and Oliver is sold into service. This isn’t quite how things go at HCS board meetings. No, to recall another 1960s show, Get Smart, it’s more like a cone of silence descends over the pedestal. You can see the board members smirk, scowl, then drift off into reveries of prideful power, but for all intents and purposes, it is as if they are protected from having to hear your pleblian voice.

What I don’t get is what the Board has to lose — and, unfortunately, based on the re-election of McCaulley, you can be a rubberstamper and not lose. It’s not like Wardynski can fire them. Morrison is a lame duck and the last educator on the Board. Maybe she is just old, weary, disgusted, and despondent. But she has absolutely nothing to lose. Come on, Alta, rally! You know things are going to hell in a handbasket. Is this the legacy you want?

Finally, would someone who isn’t scared of W please let him know how embarrassing it is to send a kid to school in a district where not a single person in the central office is literate enough to change “Reward and Recognition” to “Awards and Recognitions” on the home page of the HCS website available to all the world to see? Or, on second thought, don’t. Let the world see for themselves what we the people in the hard chairs have come to know: the countdown to implosion  has begun.

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