Open Letter to LeRoy Tate
By Joe Webb
August 27, 2009
I have repeatedly watched video of your embarrassingly unprofessional
outburst - attacking the press and your colleagues on the Board of
Education at a recent function of that board and decided that as one of
your employers, you and I should have a little chat. I chose an open
letter in this public venue with the publishers indulgence so that we
can all be very clear and open about this.
As preface, I should say that I considered preparing an exhaustive
treatment especially for you on the proper role of the press in our
democracy and would have done so if I had any hope that you would read
or comprehend it. It turns out that I have no basis for confidence in
either proposition so it seemed best to keep it simple.
Watching the subject video it became clear to me that you do not
understand why the press attends your meetings, why they write the
things they write, why your colleagues sometimes strenuously disagree
with you, or what your proper role as a public servant compels you to do
Lets clear that up:
As simply as I can put it, the role of the press is to inform the
public. To offer up an accurate, objective description of the doings of
our servants (including you) and in so doing, hold you accountable to
the public (that would be me and every other citizen) from whom all
power in our democracy derives.
It is the duty of the press to hold you accountable in every possible
way, day in and day out. It is the duty of the press (including citizen
journalists) to watch what you do and say, and then tell us (the public)
about it. Then, it is our duty as citizens to discuss and diligently
evaluate what you do and say and in turn, make informed decisions about
whether we should have a little chat (like this one), or whether you
should be representing us at all.
It has been thus since the founding of our nation.
Thomas Jefferson once said "The basis of our government being the
opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that
right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a
government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I
should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." One of Jefferson's
contemporaries, Benjamin Franklin further explained "Printers are
educated in the belief, that when men differ in opinion, both sides
ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and
that when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an
overmatch for the latter ...".
The press is indispensable to our democracy as it was conceived, and
Now, to be fair, I can fully understand why you would resent the press
noticing, let alone telling people about your some of your positions
because they are generally quite bad positions. Still, you can't expect
the press to forsake its duty in order to protect you from the
inevitable consequence of those positions. For example: You have
formally taken the position that you would rather give pay raises to
employees - some of whom do not even have direct routine contact with
students - than fund a building program that will replace badly
dilapidated schools. You sarcastically deride the new buildings as "Taj
Mahal" which is globally recognized as symbolic of luxurious opulence (a
curious way to see new school buildings).
That is just an unfathomably bad, virtually indefensible position given
the sheer numbers of students trying to learn in grossly inadequate, and
in some cases, dangerous facilities. Your position quite honestly begs
the question: Is this man so bone-jarringly stupid that he can't grasp
what a bad position that is; or is he smart enough to grasp it, and just
doesn't care - preferring to honor other interests besides the welfare
of students and their parents he is paid to serve?
Whichever answer is the right, the public has every right to know about
your position, and the press has every right and duty to tell the public
about your position, and every right to not be accosted by you in
relation to the exercise of that duty on the publics behalf.
Let me pay you the great compliment of being blunt.
You have no right to accost people representing me, let alone doing so
from the relative safety of the Chairman's seat. Accosting the press and
your colleagues for doing their duty just makes you a petulant idiot.
Doing so from the legal protection of the Chairman's seat makes you a
petulant idiot and a coward.
I don't give a tinker's dam what you like or do not like. You are being
paid to do a job. Part of that job is to conduct yourself professionally
with due deference to your proper role - showing proper respect to the
public, and those lawfully representing the publics interests.
Don't like that? Fine. Quit. You can be replaced in very short order by
someone who is smart enough to understand their role, and in possession
of sufficient personal integrity to honor it.
I hope this clears things up.