Civics 101

Some Amphi Parents Could Use A Refresher Course In American Government.

By Emil Franzi

A GROUP OF parents in the Amphitheater School District who support a controversial new high-school site are attempting to reduce the participation of the one member of the Amphi School Board--Nancy Young Wright--who disagrees with them and opposes the site.

They claim Wright's membership, past and present, in environmental groups that oppose the site because of the possible presence of the endangered pygmy owl constitutes a "conflict of interest."

They allege Wright has violated conflict-of-interest law because she's been present at school board executive sessions during discussions of legal strategies to be used against the environmental groups.

Currents The pro-high-school-site parents also demand that once a decision has been reached by a majority on the Amphi School Board, those members who disagree are bound to support the decision of the majority.

The depth of ignorance these parents display--about the nature of government in America, as well as the nature of our individual freedoms--is abysmal, if not downright scary.

Let's put aside for a moment recent allegations that some of the Amphi School Board's executive sessions have been highly questionable--and perhaps illegal--evasions of Arizona's Open Meetings Law; instead, let's look at the nature of the charge these people bring against Wright.

First, state and local conflict-of-interest laws invariably refer to public officials committing acts or casting votes which cause them, or their close kin or business associates, to make money at public expense. There's nothing Wright has done that will make her, or anybody close to her, any money. There is simply no conflict, legal or moral.

Furthermore, in a moral sense at least, the same probably can't be said for the head of the self-appointed parents group, Esther Underwood. Her husband owns AAA Landscaping, one of the biggest in town and rated by The Arizona Daily Star as Pima County's 212th-largest employer, with 170 full-time equivalent workers. It isn't difficult to suppose that an outfit this big just might have some interest in doing landscaping business with school districts. But does Esther Underwood have a "conflict of interest," in a legal sense, when she cheers on the bladers and graders? No--she isn't a public official, and she can do what she wants.

It's obvious, however, that she isn't the pure-hearted "soccer mom" the daily press has made her out to be through its sloppy reporting. In fact, Underwood's efforts to stifle those who oppose her smack of ignorant political hooliganism.

Despite Mrs. Underwood's ill-informed claims, the dissenter on an elected board does not have to go along with what she perceives to be a bad decision by the majority, nor are the dissenter's official duties and responsibilities diminished when her constituents fight that majority decision. That would be a ludicrous negation of the basic principles of representative government. If some of the voters don't like the dissenter's actions, that's what the recall statute is for. Under the American system, at least, we cannot reduce the role of the elected officials we dislike; we can only change who they are.

Furthermore, Wright can not only encourage those groups she's part of to sue the board she's on over a bad decision, she could become the plaintiff herself, if she wished, and attend executive session involving her own lawsuit, just like Pima County Supervisor Ed Moore once did.

At any rate, it would be fascinating to see what happens if Amphi voters change the makeup of their school board in November. Will the two surviving supporters of the high school then find themselves banned from executive sessions and forced to go along with a new majority?"

In the meantime, Wright not only has the God-given right to be a member of anything she damn well pleases, she should be lauded for having the guts to stick with those who brought her to the dance.

When Wright ran for the School Board, it was no secret she was a neighborhood activist who helped form and lead the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition, chairs the buffers group, and was at one time a member of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. This devotion to environmental causes probably helped her get elected.

That's what representative government is all about. TW

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