City Life: Voters need to be accountable, too

It is a phenomenon of the American voter. He is disgusted with Congress and believes it is the fault of every representative except the one in his district.

That's the way it has been for more than two decades of polling by CNN. Last August, however, all that changed.

In that CNN poll, only 41% of the people questioned say the lawmaker in their district deserves to be reelected. This is the first time that the figure has dropped below 50%.

Locally, the discontent and accountability scenario does not reflect the CNN poll findings. Here, we have increasing discontent with the Newport-Mesa Unified school board, specifically its management of Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's employment. Few, however, seem to understand that it was voters here, not the voters on Mars, who elected the people who are making these bad decisions.

We elected this board, folks. More accurately, you elected them.

Of the seven sitting trustees, I have voted for one. Katrina Foley got my vote last year because I believed she was going to try to restore accountability and progress to the panel. Foley is trying — she was the only trustee to vote against approving Hubbard's paid administrative leave.

Which brings us to one of the most honest letters to the editor I've seen published by the Daily Pilot in a while ("Smith column nails Hubbard issue," Nov. 13). Newport Beach resident Frank Feller expressed his disgust at Hubbard's paid leave and wrote, "Now, I understand that we the people elected the board…"

Feller gets it.

Trustee Martha Fluor doesn't get it. Last January, she defended Hubbard's highly inappropriate email messages to a former female subordinate by saying, "[It was between] consenting adults. Was it good judgment? That's for Dr. Hubbard to decide" ("Educators have different takes on Hubbard," Jan. 18).

Sorry, but it's not for Hubbard to decide; it's for everyone but Hubbard. Local teachers have already decided, casting a vote of no confidence in Hubbard earlier this month. Based on my 16 years of watching the school board, that vote is likely to be dismissed by the trustees as unrepresentative of the entire teaching force. Based on the communication I have received, however, that would be a bad call.

Teachers are upset not only by Hubbard's emails, but also by the board's failure to take any disciplinary action whatsoever. Instead, incredibly, he received support. They're also well aware that had the emails been sent by a teacher, support from the trustees would be about as plentiful as a 5% pay raise.

It's déjà vu all over again. As I pointed out last week, 10 years ago former Trustee Jim Ferryman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunk-driving charge ("Teachers are right to be mad"). At that time, only one of the trustees, Wendy Leece, now a Costa Mesa councilwoman, demanded his resignation.

Of the remaining six trustees, four are still on the dais. So, based on their past support of a convicted drunk driver, is anyone really surprised that Hubbard hasn't been sent to his room without supper?

This time around, though, it's different. This time, we have a matter that resonates deep into the ranks of teachers. This time around, they're not sitting on their hands. Sadly, some teachers do not speak up against this unequal treatment because they are afraid of retaliation.

Now that's a pleasant work environment.

This time around, teachers in both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa schools have an issue that unites them in way that even drunk driving did not. Together, teachers will be the voice that helps the six trustees understand that the emails Hubbard sent from the district's communications system are completely out of line and that some disciplinary action is in order.

Teachers, it's not up to someone else to speak up and urge action; it's up to you. And should you experience any retaliation, just let me know.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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