The Value of Just Showing Up

Member Group : Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania

Something interesting happened in a school district in western Pennsylvania: the taxpayers actually won.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

"A longtime Baldwin-Whitehall school board member has become one of the district’s highest-paid employees.

"Martin Michael Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall started on Wednesday in a new position that pays $120,000 a year, the third-highest salary in the district. His title: supervisor of projects for the school directors and special assistant to the superintendent.

"No other public school in the state has an employee with that title, but there are six special assistants to superintendents, and 50 assistants to superintendents particular to instruction, Pennsylvania Department of Education records show for 2011-12.

"Moments after he quit the board on Tuesday night, his colleagues hired Schmotzer in a 7-1 vote, giving him a five-year contract."

Make no mistake; this is not the part where the taxpayers won. Although very dubious, this action was perfectly legal (at least according to the folks quoted in the article).

The taxpayer victory came at the next school board meeting, when Mr. Schmotzer resigned from his newly created post. The taxpayers of Baldwin-Whitehall were rightly outraged. They made their feelings known. Then lo-and-behold the situation was remedied.

Back to that moral.

One might ask how seven members of an elected board would come to the conclusion that filling a position in such a manner would go unnoticed. The sad reason is because much of what happens at school board meetings (and meetings of other local elected bodies) rarely received much attention. This results in some local officials believing that they can just get away with it because no one actually cares.

It is worth wondering how many tax-payers typically show up for a Baldwin-Whitehall Scholl Board meeting. If they are like the typical school board meeting, the odds are quite high you could count the number of taxpayers on one hand. If taxpayers had taken a more active interest in the school board meetings, would the board have been this brazen?

What does that mean for the rest of us? And, how does that lesson apply to other levels of government?

Experience and research show that elected officials pay a great deal of attention to their constituents. And, this is true through the federal government.

The challenge then is getting people to show up.