Daily Bread for 6.7.22: Big Changes Require Big Explanations

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 74. Sunrise is 5:16 AM and sunset 8:31 PM for 15h 14m 50s of daytime.  The moon is in its first quarter with 49.4%% of its visible disk illuminated.

The Whitewater Unified District School Board meets in closed session at 6 PM and open session at 7 PM, while Whitewater’s Common Council meets at 6:30 PM.

On this day in 1942,  the Battle of Midway ends in American victory: “Military historian John Keegan called it ‘the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare,’ while naval historian Craig Symonds called it ‘one of the most consequential naval engagements in world history, ranking alongside SalamisTrafalgar, and Tsushima Strait, as both tactically decisive and strategically influential.’ “

There have been in this small city, over these last two years, significant policy actions from both the local municipal government and the public school district that, being big, require big justifications.

Strange, but perhaps not so strange: Whitewater’s city government and school district came through a pandemic only to become enmired in greater controversies on the other side of COVID-19. It’s not so strange because, in fact, the pandemic has only exacerbated existing cultural divisions in the city. They were present before, and are stronger now. Those divisions require caution that policymakers have not exercised. It’s a minefield now; racing about only leads to unnecessary injury.

As was true with Old Whitewater’s failure to understand the shifting local terrain of the years since the Great Recession, so officials in city hall and the district’s central office do not understand the ground on which they walk. Old Whitewater was, of course, sure that it was right although local conditions proved them wrong. See Old Whitewater’s 3 Big Mistakes. (Even now, some from what’s left of that kind will not admit they botched the last fifteen years. Doesn’t matter; they did.)

Now, after all that has happened, it should be obvious that there are limits to local government action. The power for positive change from government is limited; Whitewater is in need of private economic and cultural rejuvenation that local government lacks the money and skill to effect. Whitewater’s socio-economic maladies exceed the ability of local policymakers to cure through their own efforts. See The Limits of Local Politics and 6 Asides Before the Local Spring Elections in Whitewater (‘local government in Whitewater has less influence each year to address constructively the significant problems in this community’).

When government does act, it always owes an explanation. When it acts in big ways, it owes big explanations.

From city hall, there’s a need for detailed explanations of the lakes restoration program, the planned takeover of the local fire department, the absence of a permanent police chief, and continuing failures to fulfill the clear requirements of Whitewater’s own transparency ordinance.

From the school district, there’s a need for detailed explanations of what the district expects from an operational referendum, of significant policy changes that affect students and families, and why this district has an unusually high amount of staff turnover.

These explanations should, and as a practical matter must, come from those hired as full-time leaders of the city government and school district. Whitewater’s city manager has been in office for ten years, and the school district’s superintendent for two years. That’s more than enough tenure to address the community directly and respond to questions on key issues.

It’s not through a common council or a school board that these appointed officials should be speaking. They were hired and are obligated to address concerns directly, in their own voices, and to respond thoroughly and patiently to community concerns.

If they are unwilling or unable to do so then they are unsuited to their roles. Both Whitewater’s city manager and superintendent are graduated from accredited institutions of higher learning. Those with advanced degrees should produce advanced work. They have an obligation to the schools they attended and the community that employs them to meet a high scholastic standard.

Our small and beautiful city should accept no less.

Intolerance for dissent, in particular, is unworthy of both academic standards and the American constitutional tradition. Any public official who came to Whitewater with the expectation that residents should stop talking and fall in line came to the wrong city.

As for patience, no one can say that this libertarian blogger hasn’t been patient in addressing city and school district policies over the last two years. It was fair to give policymakers time to adjust to the return of ordinary conditions as the pandemic eased into an endemic in Whitewater.

There’s no virtue in excess, however; patience like other virtues has a proper limit.

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1 year ago

[…] has been too little of that over the last year in the district and in city government, both. See Big Changes Require Big Explanations. Those formally educated owe it to the community to meet the standards of the schooling they have […]