The City's Pulse Newsletter

Guts and Glory: The Start of Something Good

It takes guts to stand tall in front of an angry crowd; to be the target of frustrations and accusations.  New Superintendent of CdA Schools, Hazel Bauman, has done just that recently. Four times. She has not only survived these experiences, she may have kick-started one of the most positive chain reactions this community has ever witnessed.  At least I hope so.

Hazel took over the lead role in the district early last month, right on the heels of the second failed school facilities levy in three years.  Communication was low and public trust even lower.  Some staff members walked and the budget was in trouble.  And there were numerous letters to the Press demanding change.

What's a new boss to do?  Well, Hazel sized up the situation, pulled on her big girl shoes and stepped out front and center.  She organized four public meetings in various places and at differing times so people of all schedules could choose to attend.  

Hazel stood in the spotlight, taking any and all questions.  She did not shy away from tough subjects.  She did not point fingers or blame others for the problems of the district. She even said "I don't want to bait and switch", so she carefully answered questions directly.  While she did have various staff members in the room, Hazel was the only one in the line of fire, a role she handled with respect and patience. 

The audience is the other half of this story.  I attended the first and last of the four meetings, which took place over the course of about two months.  The first meeting was tense going in.  Cautious looks, hushed voices.  No one knew what to expect.  Everyone was polite but you could feel the public's burden of unanswered questions and the district staff's fear of the unknown.

Those first citizen comments were intense.  Reasons for the levy failures were offered, listed, discussed and underscored, again and again.  Process, communication, accountability, fiscal restraint...the parade of complaints slowly turned to suggestions.  Everyone behaved themselves and the meeting ended with a sense of hopeful caution and modest relief.

News articles, letters to the editor and blog comments after the first meeting reflected some optimism.  I received reports from people who attended the next two meetings and their feedback was increasingly positive.  Then a surprising event occurred. 

Completely sidestepping tradition, Hazel announced the formation of a Financial Advisory Group for the district, comprised of a handful of experienced citizen volunteers.  These retired experts from business and financial careers will assess the status and needs of the district and advise the leadership.  What seems most exciting is the members of this group appear independent; they are not the same names so often seen on local committees, commissions and boards.  Fresh, objective viewpoints.

The final of the four meetings took place early last Tuesday morning.  What a contrast with the first.  You could feel trust building in the room.  You could sense respect flowing both ways.  Attendees were anxious to be part of solutions, offering ideas on many subjects like finances, class configuration and future land acquisition. The meeting ended with smiles, congratulations, handshakes and chatter.  Hope.

Follow through will be carefully monitored; caution lingers on the side, but something is happening.  Something good.   Could this model of open dialog meetings, respectful listening, exchange of concerns and ideas...could this work for other issues in our community?  The Educational Corridor, LCDC urban renewal, CdA's city budget crisis, the proposed new county jail and administration building, and more? 

Hazel's experiment has been a resounding success so far.  The public is ready to embrace positive changes, engage in honest process and become part of the answer to our local issues.  CdA area leaders, please follow Hazel's lead and take the risk.  It could be the start of something very good for us all.

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Dear Newsletter Readers,

Above is the column that was in Sunday's Press.  After it was submitted to the editor last week, there was an important meeting at the school district office.  I was invited to participate in the small gathering of three auditors, the district treasurer and Hazel.  I was included because I spoke up at the first community meeting in June, asking for a detailed audit of the district's finances, and I'm sure also because my newsletters and columns reach many people.

My column, above, was  positive and supportive of Hazel's new direction, so I was hoping the finance meeting would follow the same pattern of answering questions and pursuing honest answers.  I was not disappointed.  Hazel and  district treasurer Julie Day, seem determined to examine past decisions, mistakes and inefficiencies.  They want to improve the way the district uses our money and they pledge to keep on listening.  That's a good sign.  An extensive financial audit along with a performance audit of management decisions are both being seriously considered.  Let's hope these actions are approved by the Board and move forward quickly.  There is hope in the world.   Have a great week. --Mary
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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner, former P&Z Commissioner and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues.  Her opinions are her own.

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