Never be fearful of speaking up

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Elected board or council members should not feel censored or intimidated.

LET'S GET TO THE POINT: Beloit Turner School Board President John Turner is wrong. And if a board policy says he's right, then the policy is wrong.

Turner wrote a critical email to board Vice President Kim Ward, telling her she should not have expressed her dissent on a social media forum and to the newspaper about the board's decision favoring a $26.8 million referendum. Turner cited a board policy he interprets as binding all elected members to support "the will of the board" after a vote is taken.

That tune has been played before, and fairly often, among majorities on elected public bodies. But in our view, it strikes a sour note.

HERE'S WHY. Members of the Turner School Board are elected at-large to represent all the people. They are not elected as a slate or a team with a clearly defined platform for voters to approve or disapprove. Thus, each elected member is a free agent, charged with individually assessing issues that come before the board and following nothing but their own conclusions based on what is believed to be in the best interest of constituents.

When the majority of the board makes a decision, that's binding. The direction has been set.

That does not mean, however, any individual board member then must change his or her opinion and support the decision or duct-tape their mouths shut so no dissenting word slips out.

In that sense school boards and city councils are no different than the legislature in Madison or Congress in Washington. Votes are taken and decisions are made and enacted into practices. But that doesn't require dissenters to toe the line and button their lips, let alone voice support for directions with which they disagree. Viewed from another perspective, the one representing all the people, may suggest dissenters could reflect the opinions of substantial numbers of citizens.

LET'S ALSO MAKE this clear: This commentary in no way reflects the newspaper's approval or disapproval of the Turner district's April referendum plan. If the newspaper chooses to take a position it will come much closer to the vote and after due reflection on the underlying facts behind the plan.

Nor is it our intention to only single out the disagreement currently impacting the Turner School Board. This kind of get-in-line expectation among board and council majorities is all too common. Whenever and wherever it happens, it's wrong.

Elected officials never should be hesitant or cowed from speaking their mind. They were not put in office by voters to go along to get along. The "will of the board" may be binding - at least until another elected board comes along with the authority to reverse - but it's not a gag order.

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