Apodaca: Let's look at school, city and self governance

This week I'm sounding off on a few issues facing our community.

School board can still win respect

The first item on my agenda involves the school board.

I'm sure most of the board members at this point wish for a day when they weren't beset by controversy. The widespread criticism over their handling of Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's legal woes can't be easy to take.

So let me clue them in on a way to diffuse at least some of the disapproval: Do the right thing. Release all of the e-mails between Hubbard and board President Walt Davenport.

The board last week made public a dozen e-mails between the pair, dated Dec. 16 to Jan. 24, in which Davenport expressed strong support for Hubbard, who is awaiting trial on charges of misappropriating public funds while he was Beverly Hills schools chief.

But the board should comply with the Daily Pilot's request to hand over all e-mails between the two officials dating back to Hubbard's 2006 appointment by the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. The public has a right to view these communications, a point underscored by an e-mail last month in which Davenport wrote that he would wait a day to tell other board members of Hubbard's request for paid leave.

The delay, Davenport indicated, was motivated by his concern that school board member Katrina Foley would go public with the information before the board's scheduled closed-door session. This end-run around Foley came after Davenport had rejected Foley's request for an earlier meeting to discuss Hubbard's conduct.

Foley is the only board member who has demonstrated a clear commitment to greater openness and accountability. Let's hope her common sense approach wins out, and other board members give more than lip service to the concept of transparency.

'Glee' would have to wait

Next up is the Feb. 22 Newport Beach City Council meeting, which provided some great political theater thanks to a contentious debate over the proposed Ronald Reagan statue.

Council Chambers were packed for the showdown when Councilman Keith Curry, a big Reagan fan who has spearheaded — some would say steamrollered — plans for the artwork, offered a rousing speech on his idol's legacy. His major concession was to suggest the statue be erected in Castaways Park instead of at the new Civic Center.

A cavalcade of impassioned citizens followed, and while some speakers were thoughtful and reasoned, there was plenty of blustery rhetoric and variations on the "truth": Reagan was the greatest president ever! No, he was the worst!

There were angry recriminations, heartfelt pleas and self-righteous rants. It was better than an episode of "Parks and Recreation."

The debate seemed interminable — good thing I'd recorded "Glee" — but ultimately the council voted 5 to 2 in favor of Curry's motion. The decision came as little surprise, and despite Mayor Mike Henn's admission that the council's process in the matter — which departed from civic policy governing public art — was "imperfect."

That settled, the council proceeded to discuss whether to reduce the time allotted to citizens to comment at council meetings from five minutes to three minutes (they left it at five), and other weighty matters.

By then, the crowd had thinned considerably. I was still waiting to hear about the Civic Center project, which is on course to bust the budget — an issue I considered more important than the statue imbroglio. But as the clock ticked past 10 p.m., my afternoon dose of caffeine had worn off, "Glee" was beckoning, and I decided to pack it in. The business of governance isn't just imperfect, it's also exhausting.

Slowing down

My last item involves my promise several weeks ago to drive within posted speed limits for one month, and my challenge to others to join me.

It was an interesting experiment. On the less successful front, precious few brave souls accepted my challenge. A handful of stalwart friends gave it a go, but soon gave up. My husband laughed and called me crazy. A few readers suggested that I courted danger.

Undaunted, I forged ahead, but despite good intentions I occasionally broke my pledge. My biggest enemy was my mind's tendency to wander. When I recovered from these reveries, I'd find that the needle had edged over the limit. I'd curse myself and slow back down.

But that leads me to what I consider a positive outcome. Sure, my foot sometimes tread too heavily on the pedal. But then I would check myself, and make a conscious decision to slow down.

To those who accused me of posing a danger, I reply: nonsense. Perhaps I should have clarified, but my plan was never to drive 30 mph in a 55 mph zone. My target was to stay within 5 mph of the speed limit, traffic permitting.

It shouldn't be surprising, but that turned out to be a very safe way to drive. Not only did I mitigate the risk by maintaining reasonable speeds, but I also paid closer attention to my overall driving habits. No longer did I feel the need to pass every possible car before changing lanes, race through yellow lights, or compete for parking spaces.

I managed this with no discernable difference in my punctuality. Indeed, I couldn't resist grinning and shaking my head at other drivers who zoomed past me only to wait impatiently beside me at red lights.

So here's another pitch: For those of you who are frustrated with tone-deaf elected officials, may I suggest an easy way to feel empowered? Take the time to slow down, drive safely, and enjoy knowing you've made our world a bit better.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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