School Board Tolerates Dissent . . . Up to a Point

(Thursday, November 9, 2006 6:29 AM EST)
Arlington School Board members say they want to hear from those who disagree with them. But, as John Snyder found out, don't push it too far.

Over the summer, Snyder resigned as vice chairman of the school system's Facilities Advisory Committee, after his criticism of the $33.7 million school bond raised the eyebrows of School Board Chairman Mary Hynes and Vice Chairman Libby Garvey.

Snyder's concern: That the school system was pushing forward with a massive rebuild of Yorktown High School, while other projects were waiting for funding.

“All the priorities are going to Yorktown before we've done an analysis of all the needs and the costs of the school system,” he said in a recent interview.

Snyder told fellow committee members that the funds should be spread more evenly among schools like Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Wakefield High School, which are also in need of repairs and reconstruction. One school should not usurp all available money, he said.

That opinion brought a response from Garvey, who at a meeting in July, according to Snyder, told him that speaking out against the bond package would “create a political problem for the board.”

In a recent interview, Garvey did not deny the comment. She said she viewed Snyder's opposition as campaigning against the school board, which she did not think appropriate.

“The board was not uncomfortable with him speaking out against them. We're fine with disagreements, we're fine with campaigning,” she said. “What I'm not fine with is him being in an official position associated with the school system and campaigning against the school system. He'd be wearing two hats, and it could be confusing to people in the community.”

School Board Chairman Mary Hynes took a similar view.

“I do believe that when people agree to be leaders of a committee, and they hold a position in opposition to where the majority of the committee is, they have a difficult job to do to make clear to the public when they're speaking as an individual versus when they are speaking for the community,” Hynes said in a recent interview. “I thought it was very likely that it would be difficult [for him] to maintain clarity on that.”

In response to discussions with Hynes and Garvey, Snyder chose to resign as vice chairman of the committee. He retained his seat on the committee, though.

“What they were saying was, if you're vice chair, you shouldn't speak out publicly about these issues,” he said. “Well, then I'm not going to be vice chair.”

“When Mr. Snyder decided that he was not going to be vice chairman, we made it very clear to him that we valued his voice, and that we continued to want him to serve on the committee,” said Hynes.

The episode seems similar to, if more benign than, action by the County Board over the summer.

County Board members then kicked Eric Dobson off the Planning Commission and Wayne Kubicki and Tim Wise off the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.

Although County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman was quoted as saying such rotation on boards was normal, the perception among civic activists was that Dobson, Kubicki and Wise were targeted for removal because their views were too independent for the County Board.

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