School Board: Let Educators Do Their Job
Norwalk, Connecticut, City Hall
The first time I ever saw Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Victor Herbert I told him he was nuts! That's because I had watched him sitting high above a small pool of water on a very chilly day as fair goers at Brookside Elementary School tried -- and often succeeded -- in knocking him off his perch.
I shuddered each time he hit the water, each time looking a little more blue-in-the-face. In my mind, there was no doubt he was going well beyond the call of duty.
A year ago, Herbert was one of my teammates on The Hour's "Old News" basketball squad when we eked out a victory over the Hot Shots (ladies' senior state Olympic champion team) at a benefit in the Brien McMahon High School gym.
Superintendent Treated Unfairly
While I admit a favorable bias toward Herbert, from what I've seen he appears to be doing a creditable job. I've been puzzled by the intensity and tactics of those who have been mounting attacks on the superintendent. It's clear to me he has been treated unfairly.
I would have remained silent on the brouhaha were it not for the recent decision by Board of Education Chairman Roz McCarthy to interfere with the distribution of a newsletter Herbert writes to keep parents up-to-date on school issues.
McCarthy asked Herbert to pull the newsletter on grounds it was "not a good time" to discuss the budget. Board member Thomas Vetter added his view that it contained errors and statements with which he disagrees.
Was Herbert Biting His Tongue?
Herbert acceded to the request and agreed to delay distribution of the newsletter. He had to be biting his tongue or he surely would have told the chairman to mind her own business.
My chagrin subsided a bit, however, when board member Elizabeth Lyons, whom I do not know, showed wisdom by noting that McCarthy overstepped her bounds. Also, board member Thomas Cullen rightly pointed out the board's lack of wisdom in suppressing legitimate information.
I find the treatment of Herbert and the inappropriate action of some board members offensive.
I'd like to see a modicum of wisdom in government.
I've watched the line between elected (and appointed) officials and staff functions in Norwalk become blurred for a number of years.
Understanding the Government
When I joined The Hour as a reporter in 1968, I covered the Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Common Council. At that time, Mayor Frank N. Zullo, who had been serving since 1965, had an uncommon understanding of how government should work -- as did his city clerk and confidant Charles S. Marshall and, later, Mayor Donald J. Irwin.
Unfortunately, that can't be said of subsequent mayors, nor of many councilmen and members of the several boards and commissions.
The function of board members, whether elected or appointed, is not to manage departments; rather it is to set policy for the staff to follow -- and then let them do their jobs. They have no business advising or directly overseeing the work of city employees.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on April 23, 2000.