Archive for Friday, April 8, 2011

First Bell: A school board member’s life comes with challenges

April 8, 2011


So you’re wondering what it’s like to run for office, maybe get elected, perhaps make what you consider to be the best decisions for the future of the community you serve.

Brace yourself.

Tuesday night, during an interview in the stairwell at the Douglas County Courthouse, I saw firsthand what elected officials can face as they — and the people they represent — live with the decisions.

I was talking with Rich Minder, president of the Lawrence school board, who had stopped by to follow election results and lend support to Marlene Merrill, a board colleague for the past four years.

A vocal interruption came from my left.

“Excuse me?” I said.

There stood Peggy Roth, mother of a Wakarusa Valley School student and wife of Bill Roth, a candidate for the school board. I’d seen her just a week earlier, as the board had voted to close Wakarusa Valley over her objections at district headquarters; she’d suggested starting her own school district, so that her son wouldn’t be forced to attend Broken Arrow School next year.

Standing there in the stairwell with her son, she said something else. I recall mentioning something about it being Election Night, and that talking to officials was part of my job.

“I’m here interviewing Rich Minder,” I said, adding for effect: “He’s president of the Lawrence school board.”

Her response:

“I’m going to kill that guy.”

The words hung in the air. She’d been looking at Minder, who hadn’t said a word.

Looking back now, I can’t be sure if she had said “guy” or “man.” The phrase didn’t make it into the notes from my interview, the one that had been interrupted by a Wakarusa Valley parent who also might have been frustrated by her husband’s election loss.

On Thursday I received a call from David Hardy, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy. He needed to get a statement, so he stopped by the office. We talked. He’s gathering information.

There’s no telling what will come of all of this, either through the judicial system or otherwise. The district has had law-enforcement personnel on site for the past couple board meetings, given that they’re discussing closing schools, which is an emotional issue.

But having covered local governments on and off for the past 18 years in Lawrence, I do know this: Elected officials run for office, saying they strive to serve their communities and make the best decisions they can.

We all have to live with the consequences.


workinghard 7 years ago

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Chengdu808 7 years ago

This appears to be a very cheap attack on Ms. Roth. Clearly, it was an off-the-cuff comment made at an emotional time. It was not a threat - or it does not appear to be from what I read in the article. Who cannot relate to the great disappointment of losing a school and losing an election? Saying things at a time like this, while not the best judgement, is only human, and should be understood for what it was - an expression of extreme disappointment. Reporting this seems to be another lack of human judgement. Forgive and move on.

southdakotan 7 years ago

How is this even a story? Very poor reporting LJWorld!!

nativeson 7 years ago

There are violent acts against locally elected leaders on a consistent basis. While they are not frequent, who is to judge whether or not statements are off-the-cuff or real? Is anyone in that position willing to risk the consequences?

Disappointment in election results, school closings or any other local issue do not justify reckless comments. Local officials are in a unique position of facing the public every day in their community in almost every situation. State and federal officials spend much of their time away from their consituents when they are in session.

Dialog about community issues needs to be responsible by all parties.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years ago

Newsflash: Mrs. Roth is merely a concerned mother, she isn't crazy. This isn't Florida. Neither Minder, nor Fagan, reacted in a manner consistent with having been threatened. This is merely an example of a reporter, Fagan, honoring the request of his friend, Minder, who apparently complained after the fact. If this was actually news, it would have been page one, in bold caps, the day after it allegedly happened.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Please note that 99.9% of the Wakarusa parents would not think of doing anything like this. We have had to deal with Ms. Roth's behavior at school as well. She is obviously having a difficult time coping with the closure of Wakarusa.

Mark, was this article necessary? Did you really need to give us a "black eye" on top of everything that we are already dealing with? This should have been under police reports.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

I seriously doubt that many people are going to blame all Wakarusa parents for the ill-advised words of one parent.

ElephantintheRoom 7 years ago

Thank you for the article. Since when are we not responsible for the words we choose to say? Words don't tumble accidentally out of our mouths; there is a choice to speak or not to speak. In a fit of anger at your child, if you blurt, "Oh I wish you had never been born!", is that child not to emotionally respond to those words? Adults are no different. You'll note she did not say, "I hate that guy." That would have been different.

Danielle Brunin 7 years ago

I found this story very odd. Which school board member's life is filled with challenges? Rich Minder? Marlene Merrill? I thought this was going to be a story about overcoming adversity or something. Obviously Ms. Roth's comment was inappropriate, but I'm not sure it merits an entire article at this point. Just weird...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Seems to me that making a death threat against a publicly elected official, at the Douglas County Courthouse, no less, is worthy of reporting, especially when it was made while the reporter was interviewing the target of that threat.

My guess is that there won't be any serious legal repercussion from the threat, but it certainly is newsworthy.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years ago

Sounds like much ado about nothing. Must be a really slow newsday for Fagan.

An actual news story would have been about (1) Minder reveling in the glory of dodging conflict of interest allegations & saving his investment in Delaware Commons by manipulating the process to save New York school; (2) deception of taskforce regarding $3M necessity, when it was predetermined that closing Wakarusa would occur, regardless of any actual savings; (3) interviews with taskforce members that voted to close Wakarusa and inquiry into how they would have voted had they known that there were between $11M and $14M in contingency funds that the district was willing to reallocate and use to cover any actual shortages.

Fagan apparently doesn't want to work too hard for that paycheck!!

Bingoj1 7 years ago

It does not matter how angry or disappointed someone is about something, you cannot go around in this day and age and spout off with remarks like the one reportedly said. It has to be taken seriously.

4getabouit 7 years ago

Why is this Mark's fault. This women is out of line. Good story. Turn her in for making a death threat.

sickofdummies 7 years ago

Let me preface this comment by saying that I'm not a big Minder fan. However, Mrs. Roth's comment was completely out of line. Let's not beat up on Mark for doing his job. I cant imagine standing in the middle of that... What is really astounding to me is not only that she said that, but said it in front of her child. Not only is that behavior completely unacceptable, but what kind of example is she setting for her child? Appalling! As for the other WV parents, of course, no one judges you by the actions of one, obviously disturbed individual. Mrs. Roth, I suggest that a better priority for you than railing against the school board, is to focus on what you are teaching your child.

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