Politics Should Not Come Before Priorities
Last week’s late night resignation of school board member Rebekah Harriman (Mackessey) may have represented, as she stated in her departing remarks, the culmination of much reflection, consultation with friends and family, and a number of stressful, sleepless nights.
But the timing of the announcement, and her apparent feeling that it should include disparaging remarks about her colleagues was, in our view, unfortunate — never mind the fact that the coming weeks will likely see Harriman formally or informally involved in the process of seating her own replacement.
The community certainly owes Harriman, and anyone who steps up to voluntarily serve in elected office, an expression of gratitude. There is no doubt, based on our own extensive reporting on her involvement for the good of Newtown students, that Harriman was dedicated to, and laser focused on that goal.
Her departure, however, coincides with Newtown’s new school superintendent arriving to assume administrative leadership of the district; comes at a time when her experience on the board could have been most valuable; and is happening just as a number of initiatives she helped formulate and launch are beginning to gain traction.
Regarding her parting words, over the years, this newspaper has seen the comings and goings of many a public official — elected, hired, or appointed. But it is difficult to recall any that have come with such a mix of pride and vitriol.
Instead of just announcing her departure with recognition of the “amazing things” that occurred beside those of all political stripes during her tenure, her resignation goes on to accuse colleagues of overstepping boundaries, disrespecting staff, and “coming dangerously close to undoing so much of the groundbreaking work the previous iterations of the board have made — particularly in the area of DEI.”
Harriman then bluntly states her former board suffers “from a lack of steadfast, ethical, transparent leadership,” and that some members are losing sight of serving students.
If this is true, maybe the problem is a lack of deep political experience with the chair. While politics has no place when it comes to taking care of school board business, the diplomacy that can be developed through political experience — and how it might serve a school board leader in times of controversy — could be quite valuable.
With all this said and done, Harriman said she remains committed to heading the Newtown Democratic Town Committee — the very group that will play a key role in recommending and endorsing her replacement on the school board.
While the extent of Harriman’s involvement in influencing her own replacement on the school board will only be known to a relatively few DTC and party faithful, given her true and publicly expressed feelings about her former board members and chair, the best thing Harriman might do for the good of the school district and the community would be to publicly recuse herself from any involvement in that process.
At the same time, each remaining member of the board of education should take the opportunity to reflect on the substance of Harriman’s critical opinions. Along with the chair, our school board members must refocus on their important work (with a new colleague) and move forward rejecting any momentary impulse or deep-seated predilection to let their political convictions wag the dog.