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Keep it open ; City School Board must select a new member based on ability

Seven people so far a healthy number -- have expressed interest in filling the Buffalo School Board seat vacated by Vivian O. Evans. So the East Side district will not suffer from lack of representation. In fact, its residents will be better served by a member who lives among them, not an absentee who jets back from her new home in Maryland to attend the occasional School Board session.

Perhaps the board members who were trying to protect Evans' incumbency were not concerned about her district's representation but about continuing the board majority that doubles as a rubber stamp to School Superintendent James A. Williams. Without Evans, Williams loses his sure thing. Sure Evans had moved to another state, but who knows how her replacement would vote? The next School Board election isn't until May 2013.

The remaining eight board members should select a new member based on experiences, abilities and judgment, not on a candidate's likelihood to join a certain bloc. But already there are discouraging signs. One of the palace guard, Williams' chief of staff James M. Kane, tried to conceal from public view the names of those residents who have applied. Kane muttered excuses to News reporter Mary Pasciak about having to first brief the full board, then he said something about doing his "due diligence," then about waiting a few days, and some more blah, blah, blah. Incredibly, Kane, judging by his comments at a recent School Board session, also seems to think the board should interview the applicants in private, to spare them the discomfort of having to present opinions about public matters in a public setting.

For the record, the state's expert on New York's sunshine laws, Robert Freeman of the state Committee on Open Government, said the candidate interviews should be conducted in public, and their letters of interest are subject to public disclosure. "In this instance, there is an obligation to disclose the names," Freeman said.

Of course there is; it's an elective office. But how could Williams, Kane and Co. not see this? We hope they aren't doing their own vetting and pulling strings for their favorite applicant -- the one most likely to join their fold.

Pasciak did learn the identities of six of the seven. Among those interested is a retired city school district administrator; the president of the district parenting council; a minister wrongly diagnosed in the third grade as mentally retarded and later found to have above-average intelligence; a Buffalo State College professor who ran for the seat but lost to Evans by 15 votes; a 26-year-old product of the city school system who went on to Morehouse College in Atlanta and then Buffalo State; and a resident of the Broadway/Bailey neighborhood who could not be reached for his views.

The city needs board members who vote their conscience, are not concerned about joining a bloc and challenge the popular view. In other words, the board needs members with independent streaks. And yes, it needs members who live in their districts and have the good sense to leave the post should they move away. All told, that doesn't sound like too much to ask.

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