Shining a spotlight on our public actions

The weirdness that is the Youngstown Board of Education worked its way into media members and The Vindicator team Wednesday.

The board had an obscenely long meeting Tuesday about who would be the next board president.

After four hours with no decision, the board agreed to meet Wednesday in an emergency session to continue the debate.

That caused some problems for us.

Per Ohio Sunshine Law, 24-hour public notice needs to be given for meetings, which did not happen. And making this issue an “emergency” did not really fit into any interpretation of the state’s definition.

We decided to call them on it.

That ignited a series of emails between The Vindy and the schools.

And it ignited a whole new level of board weirdness. Check this out:

When board President Brenda Kimble canceled the meeting via email to the media, the normally cheery and always-in-bloom Madonna Chism Pinkard of WFMJ fired off an email to the 50-plus person chain admonishing Kimble as the improper person to be sending such media notifications.

Only the district spokesperson should send such emails, she said, and 30 minutes later, the spokesperson did.

You’ve got big problems when Madonna starts a public flogging. She’ll never be confused as Madonna Bertram de Souza.

Not long after, I had the awkward timing of bumping into a school official. Knowing how that late afternoon cancellation event transpired, I poked a bit: “So your Wednesday afternoon sounded fun.”

It drew a glare, then a “What the heck was that all about?”

It was a fair question.

In the big scheme of things in life and the district, it was hardly a felony to create an emergency board meeting to continue a topic everyone who cared already knew about – including the media.

But it was a good call by Managing Editor Mark Sweetwood to call this one out.

Here’s why:

All government bodies – from city councils to school boards to port authorities to health commissions – are conducting the public’s business with millions of our dollars at hand. Not only is it about money, it’s also about lives – whether it’s a criminal sentencing or it’s a water-quality issue as shown in Flint, Mich.

What government does is almost always about the public. As much as they can, what they do should be done for public examination.

I’m comfy that most government operates to the best of its ability and does not act for illicit means.

But government interactions shown with Al Capone and Whitey Bulger, or in tales such as “Boardwalk Empire” or “The Godfather” are hardly extreme exaggerations or one-time events.

With a public body that is as dysfunctional as this school board is, they are the proverbial “give them an inch, they will take a yard.”

So, as informed members of the public, we politely called them on it.

Coincidentally this week, we finished off our submissions for the annual Associated Press newspaper awards, where all media across the state put their best work up against each other.

Amid a lot of great work we do, it was especially rewarding this week to look back at our actions similar to the school-board action above.

When we can muster the time and pause, such encounters are a vital public investment, as shown by these episodes:

Amid national and local water-quality crises, we scrutinized Warren records for water tests and revealed some reckless citizen notification standards. We then went to those home- owners, and they were aghast at what was happening to them. We conducted our own water tests for them. State and federal officials shared in the displeasure of citizen notification.

In Struthers, we uncovered records of an inmate suicide that showed officials failed to follow their own procedures and even misled the family to cover tracks. Our pursuits told the whole story. It eventually moved the mayor to close the jail.

We moved three public bodies to postpone and/or redo their actions on budgets and pay raises because they were done improperly in executive session.

And it’s not always about local government misdeeds.

On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we were finally able to detail the exact path of Flight 93. We were able to retrieve the exact coordinates of the flight path and used GPS to plot the roads and properties in the path. We visited and informed the neighbors over whom the plane flew that day.

These steps are not always fun. They are not always easy.

And sometimes we overshoot.

But ultimately, we need to know about the community we live in and ensure the people who win the right to lead us do so in the way the laws prescribe.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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