Beaufort County School Board member Geri Kinton wants to bar her colleagues from talking to the press.
Well, we don’t exactly know because she did not offer a reason when she moved Tuesday night to add this rule to the board’s policy manual.
But here are the scenarios under which elected school board members might not want to comment to the press:
▪ They don’t trust the press to accurately report their words.
▪ They don’t understand the Constitution.
▪ They don’t understand their role as elected leaders.
▪ They don’t want to be held accountable to the public.
▪ They think the public is too dense to understand what they do.
▪ They don’t actually know what their opinions are and therefore cannot put them into words.
▪ They can’t handle criticism.
▪ They feel hampered by public review.
▪ They erroneously believe a public body should be run like a private enterprise.
▪ They’re afraid of offending their colleagues on the board or offending the superintendent.
▪ They’re voting according to their pals rather than their constituents and therefore can’t articulate reasons that were not their own to begin with.
▪ They are afraid of looking stupid.
▪ They are up to no good.
Here are some scenarios under which elected school board members might not want their colleagues to speak to the press:
▪ They don’t look good when they do.
▪ Their lives are made inconvenient when they do.
▪ They want to shut down dissenting opinion from a minority bloc on the board.
All of these are qualities of elected officials who did not deserve your vote.
I’ve given you a lot of possibilities as to why Kinton might have made this motion. But her reasoning for making this motion — whatever it is — can be summed up rather neatly too.
Secrecy and politics.
“The press” can be read as “the public.”
A free press asks questions on your behalf. We do the math. We check the coffers. We tell you what’s being done in your government, by whom and with how much of your money.
When elected officials comment to a reporter, they are talking directly to you.
When elected officials refuse to comment or regularly dodge reporters, they are operating in the dark to either keep you from knowing the truth or to maintain and assert their own power.
These elected officials are essentially saying, “You can know how I voted, just not why I voted that way.”
This is true of Kinton.
In fact, she was practically reading from The Geri Kinton Personal Handbook when she made that motion.
Kinton regularly cannot be bothered to answer calls for comment from reporters at The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
In the few instances that she has returned calls, she’s done so only when the story that the paper was seeking comment for has already been posted online.
She has said before that she’s afraid the paper will take her words out of context and that she’s afraid of how her words will look in black and white when the issues to which she would be speaking aren’t black and white.
She’s also said she’s too busy to respond.
These are her personal reasons for not sharing her school-board-related opinions with you.
That she believes this should be the standard for the rest of the school board is scary.
Or perhaps she doesn’t mean the true rest of the school board.
Let’s face it. Many of them also prescribe to Kinton’s personal policy on not commenting to the press.
It’s all no comment and no callbacks from them, too.
So who could she be talking about?
Could it be board members Joann Orischak, Joseph Dunkle, David Striebinger and Michael Rivers? The four member who regularly question the way the board conducts itself? And who regularly side with transparency and accountability?
I’m going to say yes.
But at least the others on her team had the good sense to treat her idea the way it deserved to be treated.
When Kinton made her motion, one board member gave it a hearty laugh, “Huh huh huh huh huh huh.”
Another said “That’s terrible.”
Earl Campbell explained to Paul Roth what Kinton said.
“I’m serious,” Kinton told them. “... No more talking to the press.”
Board attorney Drew Davis looked amused. He said he found this proposal interesting and then informed the board that all Kinton needs to make this happen is to be seconded.
No one gave it to her.
An elected official’s job is to conduct the people’s business in public, to have an opinion and to be open about that opinion, and to comment publicly on issues when asked, unless the subject is otherwise protected by the law.
Kinton’s motion to stop board members from talking to the press — again, the public — was not only laughable, it was flat out wrong.
And it is absolutely telling of how she regards the job you gave her.