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posted: 9/3/2014 9:24 AM

Editorial: Goal should be openness without censure

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Ken Sorrick had already put his time in running a school district and dealing with elected board members and the media.

The retired North Palos Elementary District 117 superintendent was hired last week on a 100-day contract as interim superintendent for Kaneland schools as the district embarked on a new school year and a search for a permanent replacement for the former superintendent who left Aug. 29 to head up Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.

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And then Sorrick quit after one day. While he was apparently prepared to handle the myriad duties of a superintendent, there was one he wasn't going to accept -- dealing with an outspoken member of the school board. And how did we find that out? Only through a Freedom of Information request for the letter of resignation.

"When he made the comments about my contract, in a public meeting, in front of the press, he crossed the line. He did not make me feel welcome, and I do not want to work anywhere my services are not valued," he wrote.

This kind of drama is not unique to Kaneland, a small unit district in Kane County. One need look only to last week's censure of an outspoken member of the College of DuPage board. Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton was accused of "inappropriate conduct ... by making erroneous statements reflecting negatively against her fellow board members and the administration in an inflammatory, insulting, discourteous and defamatory manner."

Yes, it's a fine line between toeing the line as a board member and actually speaking openly when you disagree. Often, elected officials, especially school board members, are taught to keep disagreements out of the public eye, deferring all public comment to a board president, for example.

That's not open and transparent government, however. While we understand Sorrick's distaste for being questioned as he was on essentially his first day, to quit because it was done "in a public meeting, in front of the press" makes us wonder more about his approach to running a school district than to board member Tony Valente's approach to serving on a public board.

That said, it's clear both Valente and COD's Hamilton could handle their disagreements in a less inflammatory way. We strongly believe they should have the right to question, openly, any policy or decision coming before their boards. How they question, however, clearly rankles their fellow board members.

To be more effective, they need to find ways both to speak their minds and to do so productively. Daily Herald reporters have covered elected officials on every board and council imaginable over the years. It is possible to be open, transparent and effective without fear of censure or hurt feelings.

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