Just because you can doesn#8217;t mean that you should

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It has often been said that “might doesn’t make right.” And there is a big difference between “can” and “should.”

Simply put, just because an action is legal doesn’t mean it is necessarily the right thing to do. And it certainly doesn’t mean that no explanation is required. That is a concept to which some of our government officials and public servants should pay attention.

Far too often, school and governmental board members hide behind their own skewed interpretation of Ohio’s laws dealing with public employees, using the law as an excuse for keeping the public in the dark.

Email newsletter signup

Want examples? Look no farther than the recent case at Green High School where the principal was fired amidst an outcry from the community. Another perfect illustration is last year’s firing of long-time Lawrence County Board of Elections director Mary Wipert.

In both of these instances the officials in power on the respective boards hid behind legal language in the Ohio Revised Code that designates these employees as “at-will” and serve at the pleasure of the boards that hire them.

No adequate explanation was given to the public in either of these cases, with the boards hiding behind the fact that they legally have the right to make changes.

Well, you know what, when dealing with public employees that serve the taxpayers and the community, the explanation of “because we can,” just doesn’t cut it.

In the case of Green High School principal David Hopper, the superintendent acknowledges that the principal’s performance reviews were satisfactory. Yet, the school board decided that they wanted someone else for the job and had the gall to decline to offer any explanation why.

Couple that with the fact that nearly all of the discussion over this was in a closed-door session and you have what appears to be another example of the good-old-boy politics that have hurt southern Ohio for decades.

Don’t the taxpayers — many of whom rallied in the principal’s defense — deserve to know why this move was made? They absolutely do and I find it unfathomable to think Ohio’s open meetings laws that allows for closed sessions to discuss personnel was intended to silence every single discussion regarding employees.

This is abuse of the system, pure and simple, and a disservice to all the Green school district taxpayers. I hope they remember this come election time.

Although there were a variety of missteps after her termination that are irrelevant in terms of this argument, the issue with Wipert is much the same sort of Big Brother-like decision making where the powers-that-be essentially said that the general public either doesn’t deserve or need to know the truth.

It seems the Lawrence County Board of Elections didn’t want to confuse the public with something as troublesome as the facts when it comes to why Wipert was fired.

All they would ever say was that they had their reasons and that was all the rest of us needed to know.

To this day, Wipert and at least one board member maintain that they have no idea why this was initiated. Considering Wipert oversaw multiple presidential elections and numerous local races, it simply doesn’t make sense to terminate someone without valid reason.

If there was a reason, there was never any clear documentation of it. Wipert’s personnel file didn’t include a single reprimand or write up.

All our elected officials and public employees must remember that they work for the community and for the taxpayers.

Having the power to do something doesn’t always make it right, even if it is legal. And it certainly doesn’t absolve the responsibility to keep the public involved and informed.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.