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Editorial: Searching for Answers; Lebanon Board Leaves Public in the Dark

When the Lebanon School Board emerged from its latest closed-door session to discuss hiring an athletic director for the high school, board member Hank Tenney made clear to press and public alike that he was in no mood to entertain questions.

“Don’t call me,” Tenney said, deflecting any inquiries about the whole mess in the direction of the school administration. That left the sum total of public knowledge at a bare minimum: The board had instructed School Superintendent Gail Paludi to find somebody to fill the job temporarily. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

Call us old-fashioned, but we still harbor the quaint notion that elected officials owe their constituents an explanation of what they are doing, or not doing, about matters of public concern. And there is no shortage of questions about what has transpired in this largely opaque process.

When the board originally deadlocked 4-4 earlier last month on the nomination of Sharon Elementary School Principal Barrett Williams for the athletic director’s job, a couple of members cited unspecified flaws in the selection process as the reason for their opposition. What were those flaws? Was the search for the AD’s job conducted in a different way from the process used to hire other administrators? What steps have been taken to remedy those flaws — if, in fact, they exist — so they don’t undermine the next search in the eyes of board members? And if the objection is to the process, rather than the particular outcome, why does the board need to retreat behind closed doors to discuss it? Shouldn’t the public be invited into the room?

Some observers have also suggested that the unusual, and perhaps unique, requirement that the athletic director in Lebanon also have state certification as a principal was detrimental to attracting a large pool of qualified candidates for a job that can pay as high as $82,000 a year. When was that requirement put into effect, and for what purpose? Did the rule achieve the purpose for which it was designed? If not, can it be repealed before the search for a permanent AD is renewed?

School board members hire top administrators to administrate and compensate them handsomely to do so. Or as Williams, who immediately withdrew his candidacy after being informed that the board had deadlocked, put it: “Usually when a superintendent recommends a candidate, their recommendation is trusted, and they wouldn’t be recommending (a candidate) if they weren’t qualified.” So, it’s fair to ask whether the board’s rejection of the Williams’ nomination means that some members lack confidence in Paludi’s judgment. Or is it simply that members want to micromanage certain appointments but not others?

The lack of answers to these questions and others gives rise to speculation that the athletic director’s job has become a political football that somebody fumbled and nobody has yet recovered. Williams, asked by staff writer Ben Conarck about the whole dispiriting process, said merely that he couldn’t “really speak to some of the politics that go on down there.”

And the people who could speak to the politics won’t.