Sunday, April 08, 2012

Paul Lemle Knows Best

The recent primary for BOE candidates bought to light how the HoCo teachers union goes about making political endorsements. Many have been surprised to discover that the decision on who the HCEA will endorse is made by very small percentage of the union membership. As union president Paul Lemle wrote in a comment thread to this story by Brandi Jefferson in Ellicott City Patch, “our government relations committee, our Board of Directors, and our Representative Council all worked very hard to make recommendations our 5,300 members could support.”

One wonders why they didn't simply take a poll of their membership on whom to endorse. These are the people on the front lines of the HoCo public school system and may be some of the most informed voters when it comes to the school board. For teachers who don’t live in Howard County and therefore are unable to vote in this race, polling them would at least allow their voice to be heard in the process. Is the union leadership afraid of that?

I understand the argument that leaders are elected to make informed decisions on behalf of larger constituencies. In this case however, when leadership claims its endorsements represent the consensus of the rank and file, having a relatively small sample make those decisions smacks of old time back room political deal making.

The unions endorsement process further raises questions as to how this small cadre of union insiders is chosen in the first place and how much weight each group has. For example, can the union board overrule recommendations made by their own government relations committee and Representative Council?

And if the board does choose a candidate other than those recommended by these two groups, would their membership know of this internal dissent?

Of course this is all about holding and weilding power. Opening up their endorsement process to the full union membership would diminish the perceived political power of the unions leadership. On the other hand, continuing with this charade of democracy could eventually imperil their own legitimacy. In the wired world, soliciting the opinions and preferences of the entire 5,300 members is relatively easy and it seems only a matter of time before someone figures it out and does it. When this happens, and the general memberships preferences do not align perfectly with their leadership, democracy will have taken root in the HCEA.

Until such time, the endorsements of the teachers union should be taken for what they are, the biased views of a select few union insiders.
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