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'Troublemakers' on boards can serve public well
Irving Janis, a research psychologist at Yale University, popularized the concept of "groupthink" in the early 1970s, writing a book that contrasted the faulty decision-making that led to the Bay of Pigs invasion with the decisions that saved the world from nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.
Wikipedia defines it as "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the groups results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome.
"Group members try t0 minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences."
We're not pointing fingers at any governmental body in particular, and could cite numerous examples where good decisions were reached, despite the temptation to avoid conflict and go along.
The Gazette is the only local media that covers local board meetings on a regular basis -- actually attending them, not accepting sanitized, second hand versions of the events -- but we'd have to admit, reporters often prefer the "just-get-along" kind of meeting.
No one likes to watch the clock tick toward midnight while one board member or another questions actions of administrators or attempts to sway other members to what may be a wise, though unpopular, decision.
Or worse, waiting outside while board members wrangle in an "executive session."
The truth is, however, the "troublemakers" on the boards may be serving their constituents best.
Consider the case of Dr. Holly Thacker, a member of the Cuyahoga Heights, Ohio, school board.
When she was elected the board, the former superintendent suggested she join the dress code committee, but she held out for the financial committee instead.
When she began looking at the financial reports, she noticed that an audit noted "excessive expenditures" for technology products and services.
After she noticed bills were being paid without financial approval or scrutiny, she was told school districts didn't budget like private businesses.
"I sat in executive meetings and had school attorneys, administrators and board members scream at me because I was asking questions. It looked to me like a culture of complicity, with so many people related to each other, or friends with each other, in a small community," she said.
It turned out, she was right to be worried.
After she shared her concerns with law enforcement, it was found the school's technology director and others set up shell corporations and used fake invoices to make it appear that the district was buying hardware, software and services and then pocketing the cash.
The former technology director went to prison for 11 years and four months, and will have to repay the district the $3.4 million involved in the embezzlement, if he ever earns that much money.
Thankfully, schemes like the one uncovered in Ohio are rare, and the vast majority of employees and elected officials have the best interest of the taxpayers and other constituents in minds.
Still, it's a good idea to elect a few "troublemakers" from time to time.