School board Chair Jane Goodwin’s muzzling of a taxpayer has created a hostile environment that will deepen the public’s distrust and disrespect for the board.
"Enough! Silence her!” shouted the Queen. “Guards! Guards! Take this serf away! Off with her head!”
That’s pretty much the way it is at Sarasota County School Board Adventures in Silencing the Public.
As much of the nation now knows, unfortunately, that scene came to real life at the April 19 board meeting. Board Chair Jane Goodwin, who bristles and barks at the slightest bit of criticism, cut off Sarasota County parent and taxpayer Melissa Bakondy.
When Bakondy asked whether newly proposed telehealth and mental health benefits for employees would apply to board members, “because at the last board meeting (board member) Shirley Brown was caught on the microphone talking about… .” Goodwin interrupted:
“Stop! Stop talking about school board members. You’re done. You’re done, Mrs. Bakondy. You’re done. Thank you. You’re done. You cannot go and expound on school board members. I’ve told you. I’ve warned you several times. Thank you. Thank you very much. You’re done. Move on. (At this point, a police officer approached Bakondy at the podium.) Goodbye. You were about to say something horrible about Shirley Brown. Please leave. You’ve said things about me that were untrue. Leave! Please. You have children in our school district? Do you have children in our school district? (At this, board member Bridget Ziegler protested Goodwin’s question.) Please leave. (By this point three officers had surrounded Bakondy.) Ask her to leave. We’re going to recess for five minutes. Leave.”
It was stunning. Goodwin muzzled and beheaded Bakondy even before Bakondy said what she wanted to say about Brown.
By all means, everyone supports civil decorum at public meetings and personal attacks on board members are off limits. But the board-adopted decree that taxpayers cannot comment, address or question individual board members’ opinions or decision making is a bridge too far. This places board members on a pedestal and reverses who is serving whom.
Jane Goodwin needs to resign.
With this latest incident, Goodwin has created a perpetual, hostile, confrontational environment that will hang as a thick, dark fog over every school board meeting as long as she sits on the board.
Count on it: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Goodwin’s muzzling of Bakondy will draw out more disgruntled parents and taxpayers in ways yet to be known.
Indeed, Goodwin’s tyrannical attitude and tone at the last meeting will reinforce and deepen parents’ and the public’s distrust and disrespect for the board, and likewise further the perception and reality that Goodwin and her board allies, Shirley Brown and Tom Edwards, set themselves above the people they are there to serve.
Goodwin has put her all into doing what she believes is right for the district since her first of three elections in 2010. For her service and commitment, she deserves credit and gratitude. But as often occurs with longtime elected officials, power corrupts.
Goodwin can save some face by relinquishing the chair’s position. But even then, she will forever be viewed — despite all the good she has contributed — as the tyrannical board member who silenced dissent.
Goodwin’s resignation would be an honorable step toward repairing parents’ and the community’s respect and trust in this important public board.
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