Thursday, May 31, 2012

William Cinfici: A Successful Conservative School Director in an Urban District, Part II

            I am posting about my experience in public office as an example of how to be an effective officeholder, and especially how a conservative elected official can successfully advance the cause of good government even in a challenging environment, such as a liberal urban one.  I shall not reveal all of my methods of effectiveness, in case I am called upon to serve again, but I can note, for example, that I was inspired by Ronald Reagan’s belief that one can achieve much if one is not concerned with getting the credit.

            I asked many questions of the staff, contractors, vendors and solicitors, both in order to inform myself in order to cast an informed vote, but also to establish accountability by exercising my oversight responsibility.  I also learned that it was necessary to follow-up with administrators even after a resolution was passed or the Superintendent issued an order to ascertain whether or not the staff was following the instructions.  The Reading School District was shockingly lacking in openness and transparency, which became apparent almost immediately.  It was the reason the District is under federal and state criminal investigation for corruption.  Thus, asking questions was also a method of increasing transparency.  Other successful methods were requesting documents, making unannounced visits to District buildings and opposing violations of the Sunshine Law.  I also advocated for better openness for the public in several ways in order to increase accountability and was a model of it myself by informing both my colleagues of my actions and explaining matters to the public at meetings and keeping the citizens informed through the media.

            There was one natural advantage of being a Republican in a Democratic-dominated city: I received few requests for patronage from members of my party.  Most of the handful of such requests came from Democrats.  I only promised the courtesy of an interview if my name were used by the applicant as a reference, in accordance with District policy.  As a result, I was not burdened by patronage concerns and my interest in the taxpayers and students and not upon self-interest or partisan interest was thereby made all the more apparent.

            Indeed, my mostly liberal Democratic colleagues recognized and respected my commitment to the students (e.g. in terms of safety and education) and taxpayers, my knowledge of parliamentary procedure and concern for process, and my preparation.  Despite strong ideological differences, they entrusted me to draft all of the District’s new policies, for example.  My colleagues came to respect me, at least to some degree, because I spoke my conscience in standing up for taxpayers, students and staff.  I courageously expressed conservative views, even if I believed that my colleagues would sharply disagree.  Not surprisingly, sometimes they did, even when an idea seemed non-ideological.  However, I was often relieved that they agreed with some of my common-sense ideas, which encouraged me to feel free to express my principles, regardless of what they thought.  Although we had very different ideas, there was much common ground, beyond the many non-controversial issues.  When my colleagues and I did argue publicly, it was usually conducted in a respectful manner.  I criticized the Superintendent publicly, but I seldom personally criticized my colleagues in public and only when necessary to defend myself.  I avoided ad hominem arguments, even when the liberals did not.  I did not carry grudges against my colleagues in order to work with them on whatever the next issue was. 

I found it effective, if necessary, to force a debate on a matter and a vote, whether by a resolution or amendment.  I rejected the anti-democratic argument advanced by one liberal colleague that a new board of directors cannot overturn something approved by a prior board.  I was not afraid to cast a vote knowing that I would lose, even if I were the lone vote in opposition.  I usually explained my vote briefly to the public, although there were times when I found it prudent to be silent.  Sometimes when I did explain my vote clearly and with conviction, enough of my colleagues would gradually be persuaded to agree with me that when the issue arose again, the outcome was changed in favor of my position. 

            I would like to conclude by offering general advice to any other school director, some of which could also be helpful for municipal or county elected officials.  Consider the students and their parents as customers, while never losing focus on the taxpayers.  Participate in voluntary board duties, such as negotiations or hearings, in order to lighten the burden on colleagues.  Be prepared for meetings by reading the materials provided by the administration ahead of time and by knowing parliamentary procedure, board policy and relevant law.  Ask questions in order to clarify something the administration presented or to suggest alternative methods, as well as to exercise good oversight, at least by letting the administration know that someone on the board is reading the materials.  Insist upon transparency and the rights of the public to know how their tax dollars are being spent.  Defend the rights of elected officials, such as their access to public information.  Keep the public informed by explaining issues at public meetings, by nurturing positive relationships with members of the press and, if necessary, through new media.  Find out how other school boards have addressed similar issues as models.  Force a debate and a vote on important matters, even if victory is uncertain.  Have the courage to speak your mind by expressing your ideas respectfully, clearly and as succinctly as possible and to vote your conscience, but exercise good judgment in picking your battles.  When a majority agrees with your ideas, encourage the board or administration to develop a plan to implement them.  Follow up with administrators after a resolution is passed or order is given to find out whether it is being implemented. 

William Cinfici: A Successful Conservative School Director in an Urban District, Part I

           In this three-part series of posts, I shall describe my experience as a conservative school director in a liberal urban political environment, as promised.  The first part will be an introduction.  Part II will focus on my example of methods and advice for other school directors or other officeholders.  In the final part, I shall discuss the specific successful results of my service.

            I was elected a School Director of the Reading School District in 2005, winning the highest number of votes for the four seats open that year, thereby becoming only the third known Republican ever to serve on the Reading School Board of Directors in a city where Republicans are outnumbered 5:1 that was once a bastion of the Socialist Party.  I won not by campaigning as a moderate, but because of my conservative platform of fiscal responsibility, having promised to be the taxpayers’ advocate – a promise I was able to keep by cutting wasteful spending without raising taxes or sacrificing the quality of education.

            While Republicans re-nominated me without opposition, a changing electorate prevented me from again winning the Democratic nomination in 2009 and 2011, despite seldom receiving any public criticism and hearing only praise from the public.  As a result, I did not win those general elections, although I was able to both times to help a number of my like-minded Democrats to win and I have continued to advise current School Directors.  I should note that I did not begin the campaign season with the intent to seek public office in any of those three elections, but duty called when prominent members of both parties urged me to run for school board. 

            The Reading School District has about 18,000 students and a budget of about $230 million.  The District has the highest poverty rate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a high number of special needs children and a high number of students who do not speak English as their native language.  There are nine seats on the School Board.  Directors serve without compensation.

            In short, the District seemed an unlikely place for a conservative to be elected, let alone successful.  But a number of natural circumstances made it possible, such as the presence on the board of colleagues who were either relatively conservative Democrats or were liberal but held moderate views on some issues.  Another key factor was the District’s considerable problems, such as overcrowding, antiquated buildings that were in disrepair, a lack of adequate safety and security, etc. which made it open to effective solutions.  Its lack of a tax base meant that the usual liberal method of raising taxes was not an option, which created an opening for conservative fiscal ideas.  Thus, liberal urban areas do create potential opportunities for conservative leadership, not only for mayors, but even for school directors.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day: A Day of Mourning and Remembrance for American War Dead

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday intended to honor all American servicemen who died in hostile action in wartime.  It was first commemorated after the Civil War (the War Between the States).

In my post from May of 2009, Memorial Day Is Not Meant to be Happy,, I explained the error of those who observe the holiday as if it were a celebration.  Yet there is another error in recognition of the significance of this holiday that also dilutes its significance by broadening it far beyond its intended purpose: that of honoring people other than those whom the holiday is intended to honor. 

Memorial Day is not a day of mourning and remembrance for all who died.  It is neither a day to honor veterans who survived war, nor to commemorate those veterans who died in peacetime service or service not in the theater of war.  Instead, Memorial Day is intended to mourn and remember those servicemen who died in war.  It is them – and only them – whom we hallow on this holiday.

Among those to be honored should include those servicemen who died at Little Rock and Ft. Hood at the hands of jihadists as part of the War on Terrorism, as I noted in my post from February of this year, American Casualties of Jihad in the U.S. Homeland Should be Awarded Purple Hearts,

May all U.S. servicemen who sacrificed their lives in war for freedom rest in peace and may we honor their memory by bequeathing the blessings of liberty they bequeathed to us to our posterity. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Foreign Digest: Liberia, Iran, The European Monetary Union

            Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor was convicted in an international court for war crimes.  Not only did he oppress the people of Liberia, he aided the notoriously brutal rebels of Sierra Leone by trading arms for “blood” diamonds.  Taylor’s conviction in international court was the first for a head of state since the Nazi successor to Adolph Hitler was convicted in 1946.

            The results of the runoff of the Iranian elections confirm the point I made in my previous post on this subject – that the hardliners won the pseudo-democratic elections, but they control Iran regardless of the outcome of such elections.  The opposition was not permitted to participate fully in the election.  The only issue, therefore, was the independence of the president from the theocratic mullahs.  The election proved that he has none.  Meanwhile, Iran continues its nuclear program and its aid to Syria as its only Arab ally continues to oppress its people while the world dithers.

The European Monetary Union
            The presidential elections in France bucked the global trend toward the right in recent years.   The Socialist presidential candidate defeated the conservative incumbent, Nikolas Sarkozy, returning the Socialists to power for only the second time and the first time since the 1990s.  The 2012 French elections reflect the fickle nature of voters.  In systems where there is universal adult suffrage, voters tend to cast ballots based primarily on the economy, as well as personal perceptions about the candidates, unless there are major scandals, usually regardless of national security concerns or moral issues.  Thus, they elect one party to lead government and then throw out that party in the next election or two and then, in turn, throw that party out after a similarly brief while and return its predecessor to power, giving credit for prosperity to whichever party is in power and blame for recession to whichever party is in power, usually without factoring in the previous government’s policies or external factors beyond its control.  France had been an exception to the trend of changes in governments from one party to the other in the West in the first elections after September 11, as Sarkozy succeeded an unpopular government from the same party.  As President, he had presided over a warmer period of Franco-American relations, cooperated in the War on Terrorism, had led the effort to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Qaddafi and played a major role in attempting to resolve the European debt crisis.  Sarkozy had implemented some austerity measures to reduce French debt, as he had promised during his campaign, but was not as successful in winning as many reforms as he had hoped.  There will be parliamentary elections in June.

            The major issue in the French elections was austerity.  Although the differences between the two candidates were narrow, the Socialist promised more government spending.  Spending cuts are unpopular among the dependent class of voters who are allowed to elect leaders to take from those who have earned the money and distribute it to the dependent class, which is a legal form of stealing.  The election results in France were mirrored in the Greek parliamentary elections, which were part of a larger trend across Europe against government policies in regard to the European fiscal and economic crisis.  

          In Greece, the ruling center-left-right national unity coalition lost ground to the far-left.  Although the conservatives remain the largest party in parliament, no party won a majority of seats and no party could form a coalition, setting the stage for another parliamentary poll in June.  The far-left party won more votes than the Socialists, who were members of the pro-austerity governing coalition.  The vote for the far-left represented a popular rejection of austerity, as in France.  As I have posted before, the Greeks are unwilling to pay the price for their past overspending while the wealthier Northern Europeans, especially the Germans, are unwilling to continue to bail out the Greeks if they do not reduce their public debt.  The Greeks who voted against austerity are betting that the European Union is bluffing when it insists that Hellenic Republic must continue to reduce its massive public debt in order to receive additional bailout funds or be forced to abandon the euro and return to the drachma.  A Greek debt default and subsequent unprecedented exit from the eurozone would lead to uncertain economic shock to the European Union, the spread of fiscal contagion in the form of higher borrowing costs to the most vulnerable members of the eurozone, whose borrowing costs would rise even further, and a significant devaluation of the drachma, which would plunge Greece even deeper into a fiscal and economic abyss.  Greeks have already been withdrawing euros from banks in case of a return to the drachma, at the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy that could further weaken Greek banks.  The uncertainty about the situation is discouraging economic activity and increasing interest rates in European states most vulnerable to contagion, thereby worsening the situation for the entire European Union.  Both the Greeks and the Europeans want Greece to remain in the eurozone, but contingency plans are being considered for a Greek exit, as the Northern Europeans are more confident that Spain and Italy can survive the shock.  The Greeks must continue to reduce spending or face the consequences while the Europeans must continue to assist Greece, should it want the euro to endure and to avoid an uncertain fate for Europe.

Friday, May 4, 2012

1,000th Visit of a Post to My Blog

          A post to my blog, The Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization, from April of 2009,, has become the first to be visited for the 1,000th time, as tracked by StatCounter.  I count hits (pageviews) at least one hour from the last one as visits and do not count my own.  This figure does not include those who viewed my blog homepage or the archive for that month, but only those who landed on posts.  The Follow-Up on the Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization,, from May of 2009, has been visited 135 times, the seventh most among all 414 posts since November of 2008.

          StatCounter has been tracking hits to my blog since April of 2009.  There have been 4,500 visits to my blog since then.  Thank you for visiting!