My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Information on School Committee Candidates

As I've said repeatedly, the election on March 31st is a very important one for the future of the Amherst schools, and I hope that all community members will take the time to become educated about each of the candidates. The League of Women Candidates' Forum took place this evening, and I'm sure will be shown on ACTV regularly over the next 2 weeks. There will also be statements by each of the candidates in the Bulletin this week. In addition, the ACE group (Amherst Committee for Excellence), which School Committee candidate Steve Rivkin and I co-founded in December of 2007, has asked each of the candidates questions to help inform voters (the ACE group does not endorse candidates). Their answers are now posted on the ACE website (, and I encourage you to read these responses to learn the candidates' views about particular challenges currently facing the schools. And just to be clear: as I've said repeatedly, I like and respect all three candidates (Irv Rhodes, Steve Rivkin, Meg Rosa), and as a current member of the School Committee, I am not endorsing any candidate. This is a great opportunity for the voters to choose which candidate(s) they believe best shares their goals for the Amherst schools as well as strategies for achieving these goals.


Ed said...

Credits to Catherine for being impartial on this, I am reminded of what George Washington said about coalitions and such.

Well, the ASD/ARSD boards may be a bit tumultious, but we don't have people going across the river to New Jersey, as Messrs. Hamilton & Burr did...

On the other hand, political parties started as (and in many countries remain as) the means for candidates to identify which existing political figure they are most likely to be voting with. Hence there is a de-facto Catherine party and a de-facto Anti-Catherine party and perhaps this is how it must be.

All one can really ask - other than people not crossing the Hudson either literally or figuratively - is for bipartisanship.

And as to the LWV, they are the same folks who almost got the town sued by the ACLU - by Bill Newman of all people - over the July 4th Parade. They went a little bit beyond politically neutral "good government" there - and hopefully they will stay a bit more neutral in all of this.

Ed's brain said...

Good one Ed... people literally or figuratively not crossing the Hudson. Credits to Ed for free association bloviating.

Anonymous said...

Does Ed's Brain realize what Ed was referencing there, or how the man on the $10 bill came to be deceased?

Anonymous said...

I have heard that Catheirne is not at all 'impartial' on the candidates running for SC and that Steve holds the same view to close Marks Meadow and so is her choice. Only sharing what I have heard... And also say some really interesting things and raise some good points here, but I do not always know what you mean.
I would ask to speak simply so that others may simply understand. Thanks!

Ed said...

And also say some really interesting things and raise some good points here, but I do not always know what you mean.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr went across the Hudson, from NYCand into the then-wilds of New Jersey for a duel, illegal even then. Burr killed Hamilton, essentially ending the political careers of both men.

Mention was made that Dick Chaney was not the first US-VP to have shot someone while in office at the time of Chaney's hunting accident (which was not totally his fault).

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that the Bulletin Editorial would actually endorse two of the candidates (Rivkin, Rhodes). I wasn't expecting them to actually announce their choices.

Anonymous said...

Once again, despite the attempts to read her mind, Catherine's decision not to endorse SC candidates is much appreciated, at least by this voter.

In this case, the form is as important as the substance. And I don't think that Catherine is "faking it" when she talks about looking forward to working with any of these SC candidates. I too have heard good things about all of them, which is great for the community.

It is good for incumbents to try to appear nonpartisan in local elections that may alter the cast of characters that they will have to work with (and most importantly, listen to) on important boards and committees.

I know that some folks think that electioneering in town by incumbents is simply governance by some other means. And I would respectfully submit that they're wrong, that it contributes primarily to the identification of candidates and officeholders with established factions in town. We don't need to close our eyes to the fact that some people active in town politics don't speak to each other any more. That is one reason why we need officeholders who at least appear independent and willing to listen to good ideas no matter where they come from.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

From Catherine:

Ed - as I've said repeatedly, I like all three, I've had coffee with all three, and I could work with all three. All I ask is that voters get educated and vote.

Anonymous 2:20 - impartial is not the same as not endorsing! I'm not endorsing! I do believe the candidates vary in how similar they are to me and how much they do are do not share my views (certainly about closing MM, but presumably about other topics as well). But I don't think my preferences are relevant -- I could work well with any of the candidates, and I think the voters need to make up their own minds. You therefore will not find my name on any of the endorsement lists, nor have I endorsed in this blog.

Anonymous 4:20 - the Bulletin made endorsements for SB and SC last year, so I was expecting this. They also give a lot of coverage to the candidates, including their views, experiences, priorities, strategies, and goals, so I think this week's edition should be very informative for voters.

Rich - first, thank you for the good advice some time ago not to endorse. I haven't done so, and yes, this is the right call. Second, just to be perfectly clear to all: I respect all three candidates, I have met individually with all three candidates, and I believe that each could make a real contribution on SC. Indeed, I'm not faking it (and anyone who has seen me during a SC meeting understands my severe inability to fake much of anything).

Ed's brain said...

I am reminded of what Ed had to say about every topic remotely related to Amherst schools within eight to eighteen degrees of separation, including entirely unrelated political opinions.

Ed,A re you incapable of keeping to the topic of Amherst schools?

Mention was made that Dick Chaney was not the first US-VP to have shot someone while in office at the time of Chaney's hunting accident (which was not totally his fault).

Oh yes... mention was made...

His name is Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney.

If you can't spell his name correctly, why would you expect us to believe that someone else was at fault when Cheney shot Harry Whittington in the face? Never mind Ed. It's completely off topic.

Ed's brain said...

Does Ed's Brain realize what Ed was referencing there, or how the man on the $10 bill came to be deceased?

Honestly? No. This is the "My School Committee Blog" and so comments about the Amherst schools and Amherst school policy are on topic, and how a particular person's image ended up on our currency is off-topic.

Anonymous said...

This was sent to the Amherst Bulletin this morning, March 22. Irv Rhodes
Casting two votes
To the editor: Amherst Bulletin
It has come to my attention that there are supporters of some candidates for Amherst School Committee who are recommending that voters vote for only one candidate (the one they want to win) and no other candidates, even though the voter can vote for two candidates of their choice. The perverse reason for this is that by voting for only one candidate and not another candidate you therefore deny another candidate a vote and therefore eliminate the chance of splitting votes away from your candidate of choice.
This is reprehensible, unethical and immoral and I will not be a part of it. Amherst voters are supposed to be electing the two best people to the School Committee and thus casting their ballots for the two best candidates. This strategy thwarts this and instead diverts votes away from another worthy candidate. It20has another effect:It continues the divisiveness that has been in Amherst for sometime and perpetuates and gives strength to the perception that Amherst is not governed by its best people, but by special interest groups that have the groups’ interest as their priority rather then Amherst’s interest as their priority. It is my sincere desire that the candidates urge their supporters to refrain from taking part in this voting scheme and instead urge their supporters to vote for the two best candidates on March 31st.
Irv Rhodes

JWolfe said...

Irv Rhodes makes the case for bullet voting:

I used to think I was going to vote for Irv and Steve, but after reading Irv's post about the supposed immorality of the democratic process, I'll pass. He wrote this about bullet voting (i.e., voting for 1 candidate instead of 2 from among the 3), "This is reprehensible, unethical and immoral and I will not be a part of it."

For the life of me, I don't understand how ticket splitting or preferring one candidate over another or really hoping that the one of the three you like the most be elected is "unethical and immoral." It's exercising your rights.

Voting for 2 because you can even if you don't really know a lot about both isn't all that responsible, but I wouldn't call it "immoral." Voting for one if you feel as though that one person is the very best candidate and you want to help elect him or her is hardly "immoral." It strikes me as responsible behavior.

I was stunned that a candidate for SC would write something along these lines. He has made the case for me to vote for only one candidate and he isn't the one.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I, also, don't find voting for only one candidate either immoral or unethical. Personally, I have done what I now know is termed "bullet voting" in the past when voting for Town Meeting candidates in my Precinct. I have done this not because I dislike any of the other candidates or in an attempt to make sure that "my candidates" get seats but simply because if I know absolutely nothing about a candidate (and believe me, I read everything I can find on each), I don't feel right about casting a vote for them. Simple as that. I never questioned the appropriateness of doing this. To vote for someone I had no information on, on the other hand, seemed irresponsible to me.

JWolfe said...

Another thing about Irv Rhode's comments, it's exactly what it claims to abhor.

He wrote: "It [bullet voting ] continues the divisiveness that has been in Amherst for sometime and perpetuates and gives strength to the perception that Amherst is not governed by its best people, but by special interest groups that have the groups’ interest as their priority rather then Amherst’s interest as their priority."

Where to begin? How about being divisive? Irv wrote a pretty divisive and mean post about people's rights. We are not obligated to agree on everything, hence elections. I for one am tired of being told that if I disagree with the old guard on the SC or TM then I'm being divisive. I don't want to be part of those people's world. I want to separate myself from them. So in that sense, being divisive is good for me. That's me exercising my rights as an individual member of a community.

It's also highly democratic. The old guard of Amherst political activists who believe that whatever we think, whatever our circumstances, we have to put our differences aside for the community are arguing for a form of authoritarianism. They define the community norm and enforce it.

Irv, democracy is messy. We don't all agree. We work out our disagreements -- based on our interests, ideology, social and financial circumstances, experiences, and even whims -- through public and private debate (sometimes on blogs) and elections.

At the end of the day, it seems as though you're opposed to dissent and dissent is at the heart of a democracy.

Baer said...

I don't agree with Irv's statement on bullet voting.

I do not believe, though, he was speaking to the situation when you don't know enough about other candidates or if you don't like 2 of the 3 candidates.

He seemed to be speaking about a very specific strategy of *not* voting for your 2nd choice candidate even though you think they'd be a good choice, because you want to *ensure* that your 1st choice is elected in a multi-seat race.

I think that is a perfectly valid choice in a democracy if you think that 1st choice is *that* critical to the race - critical enough to sacrifice that 2nd seat.

It's not a strategy that I will use in this race, though. I've researched all three candidates and have met with each one to help me figure out how I will vote. I think there are differences between all three candidates. I'll be voting for Steve and Irv. I think they *both* bring deep experience in education and finance to the SC at a time we need it the most. Do I think it's more important to elect Steve (who is the topic of all the bullet vote talk I've heard) than to elect Irv? I think we need them both.

If you think this SC race is important, then your alternative to a bullet vote strategy is to get out and work for both candidates that you believe in. Get them elected. Do the work - get more lawn signs erected, send emails to your networks, send a letter to the paper, help with their website, talk them up with your friends and neighbors, take election day off and hold signs and help get out the vote - for both of your candidates! That's the strategy I'm following.

BTW, who's the "old guard of Amherst political activists" in this context? Because I don't see any of them on the ballot for SC...

It seems to me that there are some extremes forming on how debate, divisiveness, and collaboration are being painted in extreme is saying the right to say anything you want in political setting or debate...the other says we must collaborate and be unanimous all the time. I don't think anyone really believes in either of these extremes (gosh, I'm hoping).

I think perfectly OK to disagree with any and everybody. It's not only ok but necessary to have a vigorous debate on the issues - that's how good decisions are made.

But at the same time, the debate needs to be civil. Because there *does* need to be collaboration. It hurts the debate when we call each other names. It hurts the debate when we call each other's ideas ridiculous or guffaw when people are speaking their mind. The only thing that does - and I think this is what Irv was getting at - is shut down the debate.

I think Catherine's decision to not endorse (which doesn't mean she doesn't have an opinion) is a great example of that respect and I applaud her for that. She realizes she needs to collaborate with whoever is elected. I think people misinterpreted the 2nd vote to hire the superintendent - I believe it was an attempt at showing respect to the de facto selection of the SC. It was *clear* that Sklarz was not going to be hired after the first vote. In a personnel decision on a direct report (Sup reports directly to the SC), the working relationship will be stronger if you show that respect by a unanimous ceremonial vote that said basically, "Hey I voted for the other guy on the first vote, but you've been selected and I'm looking forward to working with you."

Another by-product of a respectful debate is we will get more people willing to run for office. But who wants to run for office when you are called names and your ideas are dismissed instead of listened to and debated on their points?

There is a strong sensible center in our town. We need to continue to make it stronger. Vigorous debate, innovative ideas, these things will lead to more progress when done in a collegial atmosphere. It doesn't mean everyone has to agree, but I think we can all have those vigorous debates and disagreements in a respectful way - without the name calling and guffaws when someone speaks.

Just my two cents (geez, looks more like 42 cents)...

JWolfe said...

To Baer,

I largely agree with what you say about bullet voting. When I speak of the "old guard," I'm referring to a couple of members of the current SC and SB who think that parents who ask very reasonable questions about curricula and budgets are divisive. We've been particularly divisive when we've asked follow-up questions after receiving answers that are vacuous and explicitly deceitful.

I can think of one individual who Baer knows well who publicly opposed having an anonymous suggestion box on the school district's homepage. He went so far as to describe his vote on the matter as lame (does that make him "auto-divisive"?). He then responded to a very reasonable column in the Bulletin from two frustrated parents by saying that the SC of course welcomes parent input through the electronic suggestion box on its homepage.

The suggestion box was put there for other reasons by the web designers and was against the explicit wishes of the SC which voted against it. But, its existence was used as a club to embarrass those angry parents and end debate about how so many parents feel ignored by the SC.

Demeaning and dismissing parents in this way is divisive and irresponsible from a member of the SC.

I don't think it's appropriate to say anything you want in a debate; that's a weak straw man in this particular debate. I do believe that when angry and disappointed parents (who are also residents and tax payers) ask reasonable questions they deserve honest answers. I further believe that when they know they're getting BS in response, saying that they don't believe the answer doesn't make them the divisive ones.

And, I don't think sitting back and accepting a lie is good for debate at all. Challenging an answer, even a good answer with which you disagree, is the essence of debate.

Finally, Irv wasn't trying to support debate, he tried to shut it down. You don't throw around terms e.g., "reprehensible, unethical and immoral" when you want to encourage an open discourse. Those are intimidating words that are much stronger than anything from the parents who are so often dismissed as "divisive."

But, Irv is a supported candidate by many in the Amherst political community (at least by the self proclaimed "sensible center") and so his words are a sagacious intervention in an important debate about community. I am not part of that community of conformity and so it is implied that I am on an extreme. Being put off by having my actions labeled "reprehensible, unethical and immoral" makes me an extremist who is divisive and willing so say anything in a debate.

Hey, thanks for keeping the debate civil and avoiding name calling!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

1. I disagree with Irv's view about bullet voting. I think bullet voting can be used effectively as a strategy to increase the chances your preferred candidate wins (as has been shown in recent Amherst elections with three people competing for two seats). In races in which one candidate is seen as the likely winner because he/she is the "middle candidate" of the three (meaning both of the other candidates' supporters are likely to support this middle candidate), the other two candidates are essentially fighting it out for second place. Thus, a vote for the two "non-middle candidates" actually could act to just negate each vote. In this election, Irv is widely seen as the "middle candidate" and thus he stands to gain the most from people not bullet voting -- because he's very likely the person who would gain the second vote on most tickets. As I've said repeatedly, get educated about all three candidates, and vote for the ONE or TWO that you believe shares your view of what the Amherst schools should be and shares your strategy of how to get there.

Joel - I agree that bullet voting can be an effective strategy -- if your number one goal is to get a particular person elected, this can indeed be the right approach. And I think it is appropriate for people to use whatever LEGAL strategy they'd like to use in the privacy of the voting booth!

Alison - Good point ... there are certainly cases in which people don't feel they know enough about all the candidates to make an informed choice. I personally have heard in this election people discussing bullet voting for EACH of the three candidates, in part because they feel strongly about a particular issue and really only understand where ONE of the candidates is on that issue.

Baer - I agree that it is fine to bullet vote if you believe strongly enough in ONE candidate that you want that person to win, and don't really care so much about which of the other two candidates wins. I also agree that everyone should become educated about the candidates and push to get those elected who you'd most like to win (lawn signs, endorsements, etc.).

I think there are disagreements in town right now about how to effect change, and in some ways, this debate on my blog is a great example of this. There are people who push strongly for collegiality in making change -- making change through small, consensus-building steps. That may work, but in all honesty, I haven't seen a lot of evidence in Amherst of change happening in this way (or if/when it happens, it takes a LONG TIME). There are others, and this includes me, who are pushing for a less collegial change process -- in which civility exists, but so does disagreement (which can seem divisive). Some have told me this approach won't work ... and they may well be right. But I think there is also a feeling among some of us, even those supposedly in the "center," that waiting for very, very slow change is hard, and that there is impatience with this process. I don't believe one of these approaches is right and one is wrong -- but I do believe that these approaches represent different models of trying to make change. That is where I see the largest divide right now, again, even among those in the "center."

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's a good thing Irv wrote in about bullet voting because I never even thought about it as an option, or thought about the implications of it.

But now I realize that if there is one candidate that I really want to win (which there is) - then that is what I should do! Thanks, Irv, for the great suggestion, I would have never thought of it myself.

Anonymous said...

Where can I read this letter (March 22) - I thought the Bulletin only came out late Thurs afternoon in print? And sometime on Friday on the internet?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:19 - Irv Rhodes posted this letter himself, which I believe he has also sent to the Bulletin. I imagine it will appear this week.

LarryK4 said...

What concerns me far greater is the voters who don't fire a shot.

Amherst regularly turns out 75% to 80% every four years for the Presidential election in November, and then every spring for the Annual election we get 15% to 20%.