How I Survived the East Corridor Meeting

The next time you read an Editorial asking why more good people don't file for public office, you have only to refer to this news article about last night's meeting to find the answer.

If you read the article above you will find that I take pains to clarify the misperceptions of some of the speakers. This is a luxury I was not afforded last night as we Board members were forced to sit mutely while speaker after speaker second guessed our work. It may have been cathartic for the audience but, a little dialogue would have allowed us to address their concerns and questions. Instead we left their statements unchallenged as though we had no answers. The audience, thus informed, would have been in a better position to help the School Board come to a better resolution of our difficulties.

The Day Begins

My wife had to fly out of town today as a snow storm began freshening up the winter. I'd woken up at three thinking of corrections I needed to make in the "Crises" page but unwilling to get out of bed when I desperately needed sleep.

After Robb was off to school and Claudia off to work I settled in to edit the page. Half an hour later I logged on to the net and uploaded the corrections. There were a dozen emails already from the 60 people I'd mailed the crises link to the day before.

One was from Howie Hanson who had asked me for my comments the day before thus prompting me to begin the Crises Page. He asked what reactions I had to my Two High School plan which had been written up in that mornings News Tribune. I told him the emails were running 9 to 1 in my favor and that the 1 had not been angered by my suggestion. All day I answered the phone, responded to email, reviewed the mail, and updated the Crisis Page. I got surprisingly positive replies to my idea.

The Monday Meeting - a short synopsis

I made my way to Ordean from three blocks away through the mushy, new fallen snow along with other stragglers to the meeting. I was a few minutes late and seated myself on the stage and waited like the audience while the administration explained "the plan" which took about an hour. The meeting was described fairly accurately by Kate Bramson in her article the next day. 

The first person to jump up and speak to the Board, a Mr. Jackson, spoke presumably for all Piedmont Heights residents. He began by saying that he didn't know if he was going to raise a "taboo" subject but he had just gone to the Duluth police department and gotten some police reports for the previous year.  He discovered to his horror that the presumably safe Piedmont neighborhood had very few arrests compared to the presumably dangerous Lincoln neighborhood.  The arrest comparison was, of course, alarming. When he concluded he won loud, pent up applause for demonstrating the unsuitability of Lincoln school as a place to send Piedmont elementary children. His indictment ignored the fact that Piedmont middle school students already attend Lincoln and that most Piedmont parents want to keep it that way rather than send their children to the much more distant Morgan Park Middle School.. 

For the next two hours it didn't get much better although a few brave soul spoke in our defense and gently took issue with the tone of the meeting. Tim Grover later told me that the entire Piedmont neighborhood was embarrassed by Mr. Jackson's comments and was drafting a letter of apology to the Lincoln neighborhood.

After the first 45 minutes of this, deprived of a microphone or the opportunity to address questions hurled at the Board I tore a page out of a folder,  penned a message on it then hung it over the edge of the table facing the audience. "Where do we get 4 million $" it asked..

Shortly after my sign went up a local cleric got up and, much offended by my question, indicted the entire school board for "incompetence." He boasted of his degree in finance and shrugged off the looming four million debt as piffle which a creative person could raise if they just had a mind to. The cleric earned my ire not so much for this blithe and naive assertion but for his demagoguery. He was eloquent in his scorn and played to the audience appealing to it better devils and reveling in his power of conduction. 

As he was quoted extensively in the paper the following day with no comment on his eloquent, if malicious, self-righteousness I sent an email to Kate Bramson. Her story had utterly failed to describe the good reverend's demagogic propensities in her effort to be a good nonjudgmental reporter.  I've detested people like that since I was in college.

After the fury of the audience had spent itself more rational critics took over the microphones. Several people argued that our plan imperiled the value of their houses harking back to the argument of white folks in the sixties and seventies who didn't want "those" people moving into their neighborhoods. A few argued that "those kids" would do better with their own kind, which might have been true given the welcome the children might receive.

One high school girl stopped and asked us if we had bothered to look for an alternative to this plan and paused for a reply which we were not supposed to give. Unwilling to contain myself I shouted out "two high schools."

Later a fellow commented that my idea was a good idea except that (since I advocated closing East High rather than Central) I had chosen the wrong high school for closing.

The browbeating continued until 11:30. I got home an hour later.