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Seven Essays: Of FACTS and Fantasy

Some thoughts on the ongoing tension between the Geneva TaxFACTS group and the Geneva School Board.

On some level, I think that most folks in Geneva are aware of the ongoing battles between the School Board and the Geneva TaxFACTS citizens group.

There have been enough headlines and enough reporting and enough strong rhetoric for readers to get the impression that there's some kind of confrontation happening that goes beyond the intellectual exchange of ideas or contrary fiscal management philosophies.

But I also think that most Genevans probably aren't aware of how emotional—and personal—the struggles have become, for people on both sides.

I've talked off the record with School Board members and friends of School Board members who feel as if they've been yelled at, insulted, castigated and even threatened, relentlessly, in public and private settings. And I've talked off the record with TaxFACTS members who feel much the same way—that they've been ignored, looked down at, and publicly and privately mistreated for simply disagreeing or questioning the status quo.

The point of that last paragraph isn't to accuse one side or the other of a specific behavior or incident. It's to show how people on both sides feel, and that they are hurting.

If you've ever attended a School Board meeting, you probably noticed right away the distance between the School Board members and District 304 staff and the audience. That seating configuration is probably the best anyone can do in the old Coultrap cafeteria, but it's also symbolic of the distance between the two groups—because often, the majority of the audience members are the core membership of Geneva TaxFACTS.

As this is written, more than a week before I go on vacation, there are a few, subtle signals that each side is moving a little closer together.

and already made some adjustments, including establishing a that's held in public session and taking time at the meetings to listen to public comment. TaxFACTS members might say those are token moves or baby steps, but they are steps nontheless.

TaxFACTS co-founder Bob McQuillan wrote what I thought was a well-reasoned and civil blog post on Geneva Patch, and the comments that followed were, for the most part, complimentary.

One of those commenters was former School Board member Rodney Nelson—who himself might have proudly owned the title of gadfly as a frequent contributor to the letters to the editor section The Geneva Republican, lo those many years ago when I was a young editor learning a trade. Maybe I'm getting curmudgeonly as I get longer in the tooth, but I find myself agreeing quite often these days with Dr. Nelson's point of view.

To paraphrase Dr. Nelson's comments:

Geneva benefits by having smart, passionate, caring School Board members and school administrators.

Geneva benefits by having active, astute citizen watchdogs.

And to stray a little off point, Geneva even benefits from pot-stirring opinion columnists like Jeff Ward, who bring up topics that might otherwise be lost from the conversation. Journalists don't function as local-government watchdogs nearly enough anymore, Dr. Nelson notes, and so the mantle is pushed on citizens.

The danger is that the combination of the three elements mentioned above can be incendiary, and raw emotions can lead to dysfunctional communication, dysfunctional activism and even dysfunctional government. But there is no doubt in my mind that the most functional Geneva involves and embraces all of its citizens and differing points of view.

In the distance of time between this writing and its publication, anything can happen. I'd be lying if I didn't think there's at least the possibility of a tinderbox explosion. But I am heartened by some of the dialogue I've heard in the past few days.

Probably it's Pollyanna, maybe it's sheer fantasy, but for the sake of the community, I hope both sides can move their chairs a little closer together.

Patrick Sharpe March 28, 2012 at 03:50 PM
How much money does the Geneva School Board have in its 'reserve' account vs other districts in Kane County? ($64 million?)
Terry Flanagan March 28, 2012 at 04:25 PM
The adversarial positions that both groups tend to assume often obscures the fact that both groups have Geneva's best interests at heart. There's certainly no financial rewards involved in serving on the school board or as a member of TaxFACTS. Neither group is exactly basking in public adulation or gratitude for a job well done. Long hours and a lot of hard work go into the efforts of both groups, probably after a full day of work along with the typical personal and family obligations. Neither group is diabolical, although you might get that impression from some of the comments you hear. It all comes down to people with different ideas about how to accomplish the same goals and Geneva benefits from that exchange of ideas. Of course, it helps if those ideas are exchanged with civility and respect. Ultimately, decisions are made by the people we elect to represent us, but citizen participation in government should always be encouraged. As for Jeff Ward, now that guy is diabolical.
John R March 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I went to a School Board meeting recently and it was horrible. I'm not going to sugar coat this post or try to sanitize it. I felt really bad for the Board Members. The TaxFACTS group was terrible. I've never seen an elected body more disrespected than when I attended the meeting. I almost took the podium to thank the Board for being so understanding and patient with that group. One guy was outright hostile and then another woman that spoke was so condencending it made my stomach sink. The Board did a pretty good job of not reacting to the barrage of crap which was being thrown there way. There were a couple slips and maybe a time when one of the Board members should have held her tongue but in general they held it together. IMHO the Board is doing an excellent job. They have a momentous task which they take on as volunteers. Geneva has an excellent school system and that's one of the reasons so many people move to this town. Watch you property values tumble if the School's go down the drain. TaxFACTS is not doing anyone a service with their continued harrassment of our School Board. The meeting I went to was a very upsetting. I think it was actually one of the more civilized ones too. I'll go back again but I'll tell you what I applaud our School Board. THANK YOU Geneva School Board for all your hard work, committment and understanding.
tjohnson March 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM
John, the Board has historically functioned as a rubber stamp for the Teachers Union and has consequently driven our taxes sky high. The quality of Geneva Schools is largely due to parental involvement, not because we have Drivers Ed teachers making 150K per year. I'm grateful for TaxFACTS to keep some back-pressure on a School Board with very little regard for the economic realities with which we are all dealing.
Alberto Principe March 29, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Thank you for sharing such a well written essay Mr. Nagel. I also enjoyed the comment about Jeff Ward being diabolical, very clever indeed. I have not had the pleasure of attending any of the School Board meetings due to scheduling conflicts, so I cannot offer any valuable insight about the happenings of the meetings. I will have to agree that both the School Board and the TaxFACTs members' disagreements have been quite public as of late and I became aware of the miscommunications through one of Mr. Ward's satirical essays (my humble opinion Mr. Ward). To reach an agreement there needs to be compromise. Problems often can be really easy to see and point out. Conversely, finding possible resolutions to those problems can be challenging but extremely rewarding.
Alberto Principe March 29, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I consider myself blessed to live here; I care for my community and dream of having the time to make a difference. I do have the time to say thank you to TaxFACTs members and the School Board members for helping me see some of the problems plaguing my community. As with the rest of the nation, the stems of most of the problems seem to involve financial responsibilities. Now that the easier part of identifying the problem has been accomplished, discussed repeatedly and in detail, let us discuss about what really matters, the possible solutions to our current predicament. Let us dedicate as much time to the challenging prospect of finding a solution without allowing pride or a sense of entitlement to interfere with our goals. Geneva could set the example for our neighboring communities to follow.
Jeff Ward March 29, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Alberto, "Satirical" is my middle name! Jeff
Jeff Ward March 29, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Who the hell is this Jeff Ward guy anyway?

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