Do citizens have the right to know the individual position of publicly elected members of a board of education, or may board members hide their personal beliefs behind a public curtain of apparent public unanimity? That’s the question I asked of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education last night, after Board Member Angel Cepeda proudly enumerated a list of anti-public employee, anti-union political positions which he appeared to claim were supported by the entire Board. Among the issues he reported lobbying for were the right to lay off teachers without being bound by seniority, the creation of a dual pension system in which teachers would pick between defined contribution or defined benefit plans and repeal of the Triborough doctrine by which public employee contracts remain in place upon their expiration. “Was Mr. Cepeda speaking for himself or the Board of education?” I asked.
The Board’s attorney advised them that they did not have to answer my question. Yet, how can that be? How can the public not have the right to know how each of their elected representatives sees issues as important as these? Why didn’t the members of the Board choose to answer my question? Were they afraid to reveal that while they spent much of their meeting last night praising the wonderful work our members do, they secretly support legislation that would seriously undermine our ability to earn living wages and have job and retirement security? Surely, we have a right to know what each Board Member thinks. While I won’t be surprised to find that they have a legal right to hide their views, they have an ethical responsibility to stand up publicly for their beliefs.