August 1, 2006
Thwarting of the plot to blow up
airliners en route from Britain to the United States reopened
the question of whether it is possible to prevent mass terrorism
within the bounds of constitutional protection of basic rights.
British police and intelligence services have targeted that
nation's Muslim population for enhanced surveillance. Arguably
that has helped ferret out leads which otherwise might not come
It will never be known to what
extent such racial-ethnic-religious profiling in this instance
saved hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of innocent lives and
spared the civilized world another World Trade Center, London
Underground or Madrid train disaster. If those who have harmed
you in the past share certain characteristics, it seems
illogical to not acknowledge that the same characteristics are
apt to show up in those who seek to harm you in the future.
To be sure, the vast majority of
the millions who profess Islam and those who live in or come
from Middle-East nations are decent, law-abiding people. They
are, in a real sense, victims of a radical fringe. It is they
who should be anxious not only to disavow those who have cast
suspicion on them all but also to assist in every way possible
in their elimination.
In light of what has happened
this week -- more accurately, what fortunately did not happen --
there will most certainly will be considerably more stringent
security measures at airports and other potentially vulnerable
sites. As much as we would wish it were not so, the simple
reality nowadays is that inconvenience and possible
embarrassment when the inevitable mistakes are made are a
pittance in exchange for the relative safety such measures
No one can hope to draw the
correct line between what is reasonable and necessary to protect
the public and what is excess. As difficult as that is, it will
be even more so to the extent that some will seek to use the
effort to their political and personal advantage.
A blue-ribbon panel is about to
begin the process of framing recommendations for restructuring
New Castle County's revenue and tax structure. As it does so,
two long-standing taboos should be subject to their
County government currently
'loses' some $17 million in property-tax revenue -- or nearly a
fifth of the potential take -- from exemptions. Three-fourths of
that is attributed to the complete exemption that non-profit
organizations enjoy. The discount that senior citizens who
qualify by a rather liberal household-income standard enjoy
accounts for another 18%.
Non-profits' exemption is a
long-standing acknowledgement that the services they provide the
community are worth considerably more than the value of the
exemption. Moreover, it is true that, if the organizations did
not exist, government at some level would have to provide at
least some of the services. On the other hand, it also is true
that several of the organizations enjoying the exemption are the
equivalent of major corporate entities which charge for their
services on a comparable basis.
While it would be neither
reasonable nor equitable to eliminate property-tax exemptions
altogether, the fact that the financial taskforce is charged
with coming up with a recommended basic restructuring of the
revenue system for the long term justifies its taking a serious
look at possible modifications.
The other area for consideration
would be a graduated 'luxury' tax. Delaware's traditional
abhorrence of a sales tax renders it impossible to obtain
anything like the necessary support of going that far. However,
there is precedent for selective excise taxes -- for instance,
on motor vehicles.
If those suggestions seem like an
invitation for the taskforce to go where mere mortals have
feared to tread, so be it. But if the outlook for a potential
financial crisis is real, then it seems reasonable to suggest
that ideas out of the proverbial box at least be open for
HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
August 1, 2006
It appears at first glance that
the Brandywine school board has come up with an able successor
to superintendent Bruce Harter. James Scanlon's accomplishments
as head of the Quakertown (Pa.) Community School District since
1999 are impressive. According to a 'press release' issued by
Brandywine following announcement that the board chose him as
the only "finalist candidate", he turned around a
poor-performing district. "[Its] achievement levels now rival
the wealthiest districts," the handout said.
In an almost ritualistic
presentation at the special school board meeting on July 24 at
which Scanlon's identity was revealed, board members gave
glowing testimony to the way he came across during interviews
they held with him. (CLICK HERE
to read the Delaforum article.) The 'release' -- prepared before they spoke in
public -- summed up their views: "Scanlon's many
accomplishments, deep commitment to high expectations for all
students and warm personal style brought him to the top of the
applicant pool." (CLICK HERE
to read the entire 'press release'.)
He made a favorable first
impression during a brief telephone conversation with Delaforum.
The interested public will have opportunities to gain an
in-person impression at open meetings on Aug. 7 and 16. The
board has said it will use "feedback" from those and other
sessions on those dates to decide whether it will offer Scanlon
an employment contract at its regular monthly business meeting
on Aug. 21.
Despite the rather elaborate
arrangement to make it appear as if it is not yet a done deal,
it's neigh impossible to believe that the board's collective
mind isn't already made up. Absent some gargantuan glitch or
totally surprising turn of events, it's a gilt-edged bet that
the Brandywine Board of Education will vote unanimously on Aug.
21 to hire James Scanlon to become, on or about Nov. 1, the
district's chief executive officer.
We have no
quarrel with that.
We have sufficient confidence in
the seven persons who comprise the board to feel certain that
they have made a conscientious decision to do what they
sincerely believe is in the best interests of the children,
parents and other residents of Brandywine Hundred and north
Wilmington. There also is no doubt that James Scanlon is the
best among the applicants a nationally recognized search firm
specializing in placements in the education field brought before
That said, we have a serious
quarrel with the process by which they arrived at their
From the beginning, the
tax-paying public has been afforded only limited glimpses into
what was happening.
Harter spent the better part of
the past academic year looking for a new job. Before landing one
in California, he is known to have been a finalist for openings
in Arkansas, Colorado and Tennessee as well as the neighboring
Christina district. It is not known where else he applied. While
interviewing at Christina, he publicly stated that he desired to
remain in Delaware.
Why not in Brandywine?
The best explanation the
Brandywine public has gotten from its board were statements to
the effect that it desired that Harter continue to serve, but
understood that job-hunting is a normal part of being a school
superintendent. As Delaforum discovered by applying provisions
of the Freedom of Information Act, Harter did not receive a
performance bonus for 2004-05. He said he declined one in
deference to public sentiment about school administrators' pay.
Whether or not the board held private reservations to its public
acclaim for Harter is, and may remain, an unanswered question.
The board early on authorized
negotiation of a tentative arrangement with Hazzard, Young &
Attea Associates to conduct a national search for a
successor when and if the time came. The time came in April but,
as far as Delaforum has been able to determine, never was an
authorization given in public view -- as the law seems to
require -- to actually proceed with and pay for the search.
When the board held closed-door
executive sessions early in May while explaining only that they
were to discuss "personnel matters," Delaforum filed a Freedom
of Information Act complaint with the attorney general's office
alleging violations of that law. As previously reported, deputy
attorney general Michael Tupman found the complaint was
justified on two of three points. In an opinion issued on the
day the Brandywine board announced Scanlon's identity and
received the next day, he held, however, that one violation was
only "technical" and the other was subsequently remedied and
therefore neither was worth pursuing even so far as to admonish
the board. (CLICK HERE
to read the Delaforum article.)
At the July 24 meeting, board
president Craig Gilbert explained that the board deemed it wise,
on the advice of Hazzard, Young &
Attea Associates, to conduct a "very confidential" search.
He stopped short of apologizing for that, but 'thanked the
community' for having the confidence to be agreeable with that.
That was based, he said, on the response of a majority of those
who responded to a survey on the district website about
qualities desired in a new superintendent.
The reason for confidentiality,
it was explained, is that more candidates would be willing to
enter into the process if they knew their identities would be
shielded from officials of the districts that employed them.
Evidently, the understanding which the Brandywine board had for
Harter's search is not universal.
Be that as it may, school boards
-- including Brandywine's in the past and Christina's more
recently -- do present their interested publics a selection of
more than one candidate with the idea of gathering that
proverbial 'feedback' before making a decision. Identity
disclosure would seem valid as an appropriate trade-off for
someone who makes a short list of candidates for a high-level,
high-paying public position. Even so, with candidates drawn from
elsewhere in the country, it would seem possible to conduct a
public session at which specific names and other identifying
information is withheld to further limit the slim possibility
the person from afar would be recognized.
Gilbert has denied an appeal by
Delaforum of a decision to bar news media and the general public
from attending three sessions with Scanlon on Aug. 16. One will
be with "business leaders, elected officials and leaders of
local religious, community and civic groups"; another with
"parent leaders"; and the third with any Brandywine district
students who wish to attend. Attenders at those meetings are
more likely to raise significant points than those who will go
to the general sessions.
"The district has decided that to
maintain an open and honest discussion between staff and
community groups and the candidate, the presence of press may
cause some consternation among individuals in the group or may
even push them to the decision not to attend," Gilbert replied.
District officials -- including
Harter -- and school board members have made a point of seeking
public confidence and trust. While there is absolutely no
indication that anything is amiss, it remains much easier to
extend confidence and trust through open doors than through
In an attempt to
make its 'Community Voices' section a more viable discussion
forum by eliminating personal, frivolous and juvenile postings,
Delaforum two months ago decided to require posters to register.
Even so, their comments would, if desired, still be attributed
only to anonymous screen names.
We were badly mistaken. The move
accomplished part of what it sought to do -- eliminate what had
been undesirable. But it also strangled virtually all other
again changed. Postings will henceforth be accepted without
the poster having to register.
Rather than 'censor' the
undesirable after it automatically appears on the site, the
process now will evaluate submissions before they are posted.
Only those that deal with matters of legitimate public interest
and comply with stated ground rules will appear on the site --
usually within 24 hours of submission. Pre-screening is a
generally accepted practice with seriously-intended blogs. (CLICK HERE
to read the ground rules.)
Delaforum will continue to accept
registrations. That will allow posters to use a validation code
to authenticate submissions. Registered posters will have
exclusive use of their selected screen name -- on a first come,
first served basis. That will prevent anyone from posting under
a false identity and wrongly attributing views to someone else.
Agreement or disagreement with
views expressed either in this commentary feature or elsewhere
on the Delaforum site is not among the criteria for posting or
not posting a submission.
Hopefully, 'Community Voices' is
back on track.