JOPLIN, Mo. —
I have lived in Joplin for more than 14 years, but I have never observed a local election containing real controversy, differences of views and strong public debate. I hope 2014 is different.
Elections for members of the Joplin City Council and the Joplin School Board will require important decisions. It is a chance to make changes in local leadership or stay with the status quo.
There were two defining local issues in 2013. The first was the action taken by the Joplin School District administration followed by the Board of Education firing tenured teacher Randy Turner. The second was the attempt by five city council members to force City Manager Mark Rohr to resign. He refused to do so. Both cases created a lot of public comment and concern by various factions on both sides of each issue.
As of this writing, eight candidates have filed for those three seats on the school board. If you as a voter feel that the board was right to fire Turner, then you should select candidates who would support similar decisions should they arise in the future. The reverse is true as well. Vote for candidates who believe the board was wrong to fire a tenured teacher if you feel that way.
If you believe that our city manager has not done a good job leading Joplin in the past nine years, then you should vote for council candidates who will seek to remove Rohr from office. Again, the reverse is applicable — vote for candidates who believe Rohr is doing a good job in rebuilding Joplin, if that’s how you feel. We as citizens do not have the power to remove teachers or city employees from jobs, but we sure can vote for people who have such power.
Actions taken regarding two individuals are not what should decide elections. Rather, the vote should be a referendum on the type of leadership the citizens of Joplin demand from their elected leaders. Do we want a school board that establishes firm and clear standards of performance and holds all school employees accountable to such standards? Or do we want a “hands off” board that lets employees teach our students with vague or unclear standards?
The same rationale should also prevail for selecting members of our city council. Was the attempt to remove Rohr from office justified and did those council members voting for his resignation proceed in a straightforward and transparent manner to achieve that goal? Or was the attempt something less than what we would demand of future city leaders?
Of course, there are bigger issues coming before the school board and city council. Is the tax increment financing process now in place the correct way to continue to rebuild Joplin? Or should TIF be radically changed, or even canceled and a new process put in place? Should Common Core State Standards be implemented to guide future education in Joplin or should that new set of standards be ignored or bypassed for Joplin’s public schools?
To me, those are critical and important choices for citizens of Joplin to make at the polls in April. What kind of elected leaders do we really want in Joplin? Do we want forthright leaders who will make tough decisions about how to teach our children and rebuild our city, state clearly their positions on controversial topics and then vote and lead accordingly? Or do we want elected leaders who will continue to try to read the tea leaves of public opinion, vote in secret (or try to) on controversial matters and stay in office at all costs? Do we want leaders who will take firm positions or ones who will make public statements of principles but leave most of us with no clue as to how they will act when decisions get tough and the issues controversial?
I hope the public debate leading up to this April’s election focuses with some clarity on the character for all candidates for public office. Tell us what you really think, then let the people decide whether you are right or wrong.
It is not my intent to be vague about my own positions on the above-mentioned issues, but I have already written columns on all of them.
I am sure as candidates’ views become clearer in the coming campaign, I will write more in the Globe supporting certain candidates. I just hope more citizens of Joplin let their views be known to the public.
Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.