A long standing issue with some members of the Grandview city council and school board is not answering the official email box. This used to be explained away by technical incompetence, but email is now the standard way that members of the community communicate with their officeholders. If you don’t answer your email, you are a poor representative of the people and you should think seriously about why you wanted to take a seat on the board or the council.
Not answering Gotchas
I have spoken in front of the school board in the past, and asked them why some members didn’t answer their email. The answer they gave me, and I swear I’m not making this up, was “I’m not answering Gotcha email”.
Gotcha questions from reporters are generally defined as the questions that are sometimes used in interviews and press conferences to spring new issues that the politician has not had time to research. If a politician has no idea that his staff member has been arrested, asking him to comment is a gotcha. The same goes for question about policy for Outer Mongolia, it is not possible for a politician to be current with every question that might be asked. Any Pol with two brain cell to rub together knows how to deal with these sort of questions, they just say “that’s an interesting question, I need to do some research, I’ll get back to you”.
Email is not the same as verbal questioning. Nobody can be surprised by an email, and be forced to answer without preparation. A gotcha email is a made up thing, anybody who uses it as an excuse is just a crappy politician.
The other answer I got from the school board about email was, “Email is something that is not a requirement to use, so if we don’t use it it is OK”. Technically this is true, board members can live their lives in a cabin in the woods with no electricity, and only take questions during the 30 minute “Hearing from the public” part of the board meetings. And nothing requires them to answer questions, “no comment” is a legal answer.
That excuse had some flimsy backing in the 90’s when email was sort of a geeky thing. Email is how everyone communicates for most written media now. A representative who doesn’t answer email because they “don’t get computers” doesn’t belong in office.
Who answers their email?
I tried to email every council and board member, some of them multiple times. After the jump, the replies I got, with some comment on how well they do.
Both council and board members have servers set up by the city and school to host their own email. This means that the address you send the email to city council will be (member name) @grandviewheights.org, the school has the format (member name)@ghcsd.org. A self-hosted email service has the advantage of not depending on someone else to keep the server running. It also has the disadvantage of depending of the skills of somebody who might not be up with the latest security measures, so the whole server could be hacked. I guess I should warn anyone stupid enough to send email threatening physical violence to a council or board member, owning the servers makes it super simple to trace the headers and track you down.
Everyone who answered my email had it set to forward to a personal email box. That means that the email you send will be replied to with an different address in the “from” field. Email clients that try to group conversation threads can be confused by this.
These people are pretty good with answering the email. Steve Goodman has the record for a two minute answer time, he has his city mailbox forwarded to his smartphone. Panzera and Hastie answered that evening, Kearns, Papineau, and Smith the next day. Lewis took a bit longer because he though my question came in on the master (all member) address, and thought someone else answered it.
If you send an email to this address – council (squiggle) grandviewheights.org – it will send an email to everyone on the council, which is handy, but if you have a simple question you might get five or six answers, or no answer, the council members don’t know when anyone else has answered a question. My suggestion, only use the “all member” email for FYI, no reply needed emails (and write NRN in the subject line). If you need a response from a specific council member, include a “Dear Mr or Ms X” at the top of the email, so the member knows you are speaking directly to them.
I’ve documented the philosophy that is held by the majority of the school board members, a belief that only the superintendent should set the policy for the school, and the board should act as a shield between the parents and the super. This philosophy of “keep the troublemakers away” (and if you are bothering the board with an email, you are a troublemaker), causes some difficulties with the basic function of answering the email.
Grant Douglass – Seems to be answering his email within a reasonable time, for now. I heard that he really hates email after he was caught stretching the truth at work and an email proved it. I never had an issue with past board presidents, even if they didn’t want to hear a word from me, they did try to answer questions. After some initial problems with getting him to answer, I reminded him that as the school board president, he has the responsibility to answer all emails from the public, no matter how much he hates the person sending it.
Adam Miller – Answered within a day. Mr. Miller is a big firm attorney and a JAG lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve. He doesn’t have much time to work with the board. Unfortunately, if you are looking to change anything inside the school, the only real choice you have is to send Miller a request. And he only has one vote, so good luck!
Stephanie Evans – Answered a couple of my emails within a day. Evans is a new member of the board, without a record. Could she be the board member who will listen to parents, and try to make changes? Yet to be determined.
Debbie Brannan – Her record in the board meeting notes is unprecedented in the sheer dedication to having no opinion, and keeping that lack of opinion to herself. Unsurprisingly, she has a problem with answering my email (but did answer an email send to her by one of my friends). Save yourself the effort, there is nothing you can learn by emailing her, she has no opinion, and will defend her right to do nothing. She does seem to have no issue with cashing the $125 check from the school for doing nothing at each meeting.
Jesse Truett – Another new board member, but there is no question about his response to email from the public. He doesn’t answer. Anything. I had multiple people send emails to him, nobody got him to say anything, no “I’ll send this on to someone who can help you”, no “I’ll get back to you”. A complete black hole. I guess he doesn’t want to waste his ‘beautiful mind‘ on reading rumbling from the Hoi polloi.
Technically, these board members have the right to be so unresponsive to the parents and public of the city. They certainly didn’t say that they would be throwing emails into the bit-bucket when they were running for office. I guess I would be OK if they had truth in labeling on the school website, after the email address, Brannan should add “has no opinion. will not be tricked by your email into forming one”. Truett should have the warning, “doesn’t answer his email, doesn’t care what you think”.