News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JULY 30, 2006


White hearing another step in elite government

The closed arbitration hearing for West Limestone High School teacher Steve White last week is one more indication the nation is rapidly losing its access to democratic government.

From the White House to the local school boards, bureaucrats are rushing to keep the public from knowing how public agencies spend tax dollars and what they are doing.

In this case, however, the Limestone County School Board asked for a public hearing, but Mr. White objected.

Not only did arbitrator Joe Battle close the meeting, citing Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service guidelines, he ordered witnesses not to talk about the case and ordered the transcript sealed.

In doing so, he issued a statement that contained Texas-size cow patties. "Despite any constitutional right that the media may claim ... a closed hearing will allow the parties and witnesses to concentrate on the matter at hand," he wrote in an e-mail to attorneys.

He also said he closed the hearing to protect Mr. White, whom the school board terminated, from possible irreparable harm to his reputation.

Not only is Mr. White a public employee, he's offered himself as a candidate for the Legislature from District 4. On both counts, he's openly accountable to the public.

Mr. Battle used the new tenure law, designed to take inefficiency out of firing teachers, as an excuse to slam shut the door on the proceedings. But charges that Mr. White engaged in partisan politics in class and showed inappropriate images on his classroom computer to students are the public's business.

Two legislators, Rep. Mickey Hammon, R-Decatur, and Rep. Tommy Carter, D-Elkmont, said they didn't intend for the new law to have such dire consequences for the public.

Mr. Carter said the law needs to be revisited. Indeed, it does.

Mr. Battle's attitude about open government and the press is part of a prevailing attitude filtering down from Washington, D.C. Open government and the press are not the enemies. Bureaucrats are simply using them to establish an elitist form of government that bodes ill for democracy.

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