Wednesday, March 01, 2006

SCHOOL DAZE: "No Zoners" Get Themselves a New Hobby

Topic A: "RID," the local citizens group opposed to building a new high school in Watauga County.

The leaders of RID (and isn't that also the brand name of a rat poison?) include many of the same "culture heroes" who battled controls on polluting industries in 2001 and 2002 under a "no zoning" banner. Rather than "no new schools" as a slogan, which would at least be honest and in keeping with the leaders' basic contempt for government generally and for taxpayer-funded public education specially, the RID hierarchy is trying to convince everyone that the shoddily built and falling down catacomb of Watauga High School can be successfully renovated at great savings to the taxpayers ... completely renovated, by the way, while the students evidently sit unperturbed at their desks. None of the actual evidence gathered from engineering firms, architects, and teachers at the high school seems to support their contentions. In fact, renovating Watauga High School seems like a classic example of throwing good money after bad, sort of the equivalent of building a porch on an outdoor toilet. When you're done, you've still got a s**thole.

Interesting that RID has found as spokesman a gentle Democratic soul who keeps saying this isn't about politics. Yet RID is a registered political action committee, and the brains behind it are all Republican operatives with a long history of manipulating public emotion for political ends.

More importantly, they are notorious hypocrites about public education. Deborah Greene, the brains behind RID, is a home-schooler who evidently and for her own reasons despises the public schools. County Commissioner and now candidate for State Senate David Blust -- another original organizer of RID -- is a founder and promoter of a private Christian school. Blust needs an issue to rile up rural people to vote for him in the May 2nd primary against incumbent State Senator John Garwood of Wilkes County. He evidently thinks RID will help him in Watauga, though what the Republican voters of Wilkes will make of his hostility toward public education is, well, their conundrum.

Greene and Blust have teamed up with Allen "Let the Ladies Clean the Toilets" Trivette, who while he was a sitting County Commissioner refused to tour the High School to see for himself the sorry state of the infrastructure. By the way (oh yes), he's also running this year for the School Board. His outright hostility toward education and his aggressive rudeness in the past toward school officials was the subject of newspaper articles during 2003 and 2004 (he called former Superintendent Dick Jones a liar, for example, when Mr. Jones was demonstrably telling the truth about the budgetary crisis facing our school system).

The tangled motives of Greene/Blust/Trivette -- especially their disdain for public education -- is what Judge Marilyn Milian of "The People's Court" might call "unclean hands." Plus they've sucked others into the lightless black hole of their crusade. County Commissioner Keith Honeycutt has attended at least one of RID's meetings, and tries an awkward straddle of the issue. Former Commissioner James Coffey, who is running again this fall for his old seat, has also attended RID meetings. But what former County Commissioner David Triplett, who is now also a candidate for the seat Blust is vacating, is doing hanging out with this crew is a puzzlement. The association taints an otherwise honorable record of public service.

A reasoned debate about what's best for the future of Watauga County education is not the issue. In fact, that debate went on for a year or more in community meetings all over the county, open meetings that none of the leadership of RID bothered to attend. They only now want to RID themselves of public education when it might serve them as a political issue in an election year. As the Church Lady was famous for saying, "How convenient!"

The Greene/Blust/Trivette tactics were honed to a fare-thee-well during their "no-zoning" crusade of 2002. Greene in particular makes a project of besmirching honorable people in public service ... simply because she can. The general public does not know the extent to which she demonized County Commissioners Sue Sweeting and Pat Wilkie, turning what might also have been a healthy debate about controlling unwelcome growth into a vicious personal vendetta. Because she evidently believes that every opinion not in synch with her own represents a "conspiracy," she feels free to conspire on her own. The general public does not know that she used the same vicious tactics to attempt to destroy N.C. Cooperative Extension Director Sue Counts, and Greene went after former resident Richard Beall in a county far from the mountains when he tried to launch a charter school there. And now she's turned her politics of personal destruction on Superintendent of Schools Bobby Short, demanding all her e-mails, for example, and harassing her with insinuations of collusion and malfeasance. Bobby Short is a relative newcomer to our county, taking on a school system fraught with problems, and for those good intentions, Deborah Greene seems intent on running her off. Insinuations are the gold standard to Ms. Greene.

Whatever else the Greene tactics are, they are not Christian. Men and women who profess Christianity should not countenance them.

Ms. Greene reminds me of characters in a short story by Graham Greene, "The Destructors." (Ms. Greene and Graham Greene are no relation, I assure you). The story is about a group of pre-teenaged boys who for no apparent reason -- because they CAN? -- destroy an innocent man's house ... completely dismantle it ... down to pounding the bathroom fixtures into white dust.

Ms. Greene and her cohorts seem to delight in destruction. They do not build up. They do not construct for tomorrow. They find ways to sow fear and resentment and dissension. They find patsies who'll be "out front" to cover the fact that home-schoolers and private Christian academy makers are trying to lecture all the rest of us on what is best for public education in Watauga County.

People have to stand up to this. Greene and Blust and Trivette are entitled to their opinions. They are NOT entitled to bully people and hurt people and lay waste to the legitimate dreams of others simply because they do not believe in public education.

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