Editorial: Keep it all public

Recently, there seems to have been some slight missteps on the part of the Greenfield School Committee when it comes to the search for a new superintendent.

It seems that there are some committee members who think that public discussion about candidates somehow crimps their ability to talk freely or candidly.

This sort of thinking led to an unfortunate exchange between Daryl Essensa and a cameraman from Greenfield Community Television over the videotaping of a “working session.”

Thankfully, there were cooler heads there who realized that no matter what you call it — working session, candidate evaluation or meeting — that the law classifies it as an “open session” and the recording of such, be it audio or visual, must be allowed as long as the meeting chairman is notified.

Public officials conducting public business before the public is an important part of community life and our democracy. And, since the person hired will be paid with taxpayer money and be ultimately responsible for educating Greenfield’s children, it’s clear that the vetting and hiring process should be done in public.

We realize that words and how you use them matter quite a bit these days, especially when talking about an individual in public. Saying the wrong thing, no matter how unintentional, can be misinterpreted as an attack on a person’s reputation or character and land the speaker, and the board or committee they sit on, in legal hot water.

In this case, Patricia Correira, the superintendent search consultant from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, told the Greenfield committee that such topics as a candidate’s reputation, character, physical condition or mental health shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

That leaves experience, education and what people learned during the site reviews where the candidates work. And, of course, there are the upcoming interviews.

Sometimes such public discussions require discretion, we like to think of that as taking a professional approach. That doesn’t mean concerns or questions shouldn’t be aired. That is an important part of the decision-making process and provides the public with a better understanding of what people are thinking and the reason behind their decisions.

We’re willing to see this as a momentary lapse of judgment. Remember, though, the public — and The Recorder — are watching.

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