Editor’s note: The weekly “Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down” editorial offers opinions on highs and lows in the news.
Seven days ago, we chastised the Eau Claire school board for not revealing the contract status of Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck. We were prepared to do it again when the school board scheduled an emergency meeting late Friday afternoon to discuss it and make the information public.
It shouldn’t have taken 10 days for the public to find out what a public body was doing with the contract of its highest-paid employee. The school board had voted in closed session on Jan. 29 to work out a new one-year contract for Hardebeck, but school officials refused to release the results of the vote. An open records request seeking the closed session information was submitted to the school district by the Leader-Telegram on Feb. 1. It went unanswered for a week until the emergency meeting was scheduled.
There was significant interest in the contract as some board members were reportedly not happy with Hardebeck’s job performance. The board met six times to discuss the contract, significantly more than in most contract extensions. Yet, even after the decision was made, taxpayers, school district employees and others in and around the community were kept in the dark. It would have been easy to simply announce the new contract.
The school board needs to be more transparent with the public if it wants its support for decisions ahead such as boundary changes, budget cuts and new initiatives like virtual schools. Open government is good government.
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Anybody who didn’t think the U.S. 53 bypass was necessary when it was first discussed two decades ago found out this week how essential that stretch of road has become to everyday life in Eau Claire.
The heavy snow Tuesday afternoon prompted highway officials to close the freeway to traffic because of crashes, forcing freeway traffic onto Clairemont Avenue and Hastings Way during the evening commute. That U.S. 53 traffic — and the snow that fell two inches an hour — produced gridlock on Hastings Way, a road that has been virtually congestion-free since the bypass opened in 2006.
We should be thankful for those who pushed for the bypass decades ago. We had forgotten what real bumper-to-bumper traffic was like.
Some motorists complained about the amount of snow on the roads during Tuesday’s storm, but let’s be realistic — the snowfall was falling at such a rate that snow plows couldn’t keep up. The plow crews, which worked every day for nearly two weeks straight, couldn’t get to some areas because of stuck cars and the congestion caused by rush hour and road closures. We should all appreciate their efforts.
— Gary Johnson, editor