A state Supreme Court ruling from two decades ago has consistently hampered the public’s right to know what is being done in the public’s name. Based on cases argued before it last week, we are hopeful the court will right that wrong.
In the meantime, the mindset of too many public servants was illustrated last week by yet another public school system telling the public nothing about a public matter.
In this case, it was a school superintendent telling parents and others that the Newmarket Junior-Senior High School principal was absent. Period.
Well, Superintendent Susan Givens did say in a letter that Principal Chris Mazzone still works for the district. But why he isn’t at his desk? Can’t tell you.
“I know people are curious about Mr. Mazzone’s attendance at school,” she wrote. “Like any organization, attendance and other personnel matters are not topics that are discussed in public for many reasons including an employee’s right to privacy.”
But a public school or any other public office is not “like any organization.” Even if it were so, an organization’s owners would have the right to know why a manager was suddenly not at his or her desk.
Public offices by their very nature are unlike private concerns. The public pays for the former. It owns them. In the case of schools, especially, the issues involved deal with a pretty precious commodity — our children.
The public has not only a right to know how its schools are being run. It needs to know in order to make informed decisions as to whether to continue to keep in office its school board members, who in turn hire the administrators and staff, who have so much to do with shaping the future.
This is not, as Superintendent Givens put it, people merely being “curious.” Openness in our government is absolutely vital to the public keeping its government in check and keeping itself informed.