Off to the Race(s)?: Madison School Board Election (Updated, 1-5-2010)

Updated 1-5-09 Brenda Konkel has the scoop.

School Board ends up with the biggest surprise:

School Board – NO RACES

Maya Cole unopposed

Beth Moss unopposed

James Howard walks into the seat vacated by Johnny Winston Jr.

Tom Farley, despite getting my signature and a couple others at 4:30, failed to get 100 signatures and is not on the ballot

There are three seats up on the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education this Spring.  So far it looks like two incumbents — Beth Moss and Maya Cole —  will be seeking re-election unopposed and the open seat vacated by Johnny Winston Jr will be contested by at least two candidates, James Howard and Tom Farely.

Farley’s entry may raise the profile of this race.  He’s best known as the brother of the late comedian (and Madison/Maple Bluff native) Chris Farley.  Tom Farley authored/edited an oral history of his brother and is a founder of a substance abuse prevention foundation inspired by his brother’s death.  He is also a marketer and motivational speaker (irony abounds).  He’s served on some city and county committees but doesn’t appear to have been much involved with MMSD.

Back in September Farley announced on his Twitter page that he was running for Lt. Governor; news reports from that time make it clear that he was intending to run as a Republican.  That didn’t happen and now he’s running for School Board and claiming a relatively long standing Democratic affiliation.  In a comment on the Cap Times story on his candidacy, Farley wrote:

To be very honest, coming to grips with my party affiliation has been an interesting journey – especially since returning to Madison six years ago. In short, was a Republican but have now firmly embraced my Democratic soul (I joined the Dem. Party of Dane Cty during last year’s election – and voted Obama).

I’ll leave it to the reader to parse the relative values Farley places on his soul, his  political affiliations and his ambitions.

In another comment on that same story Farley displays a disturbing ignorance about the Madison Board of Education.  In explaining his candidacy he refers to his experiences as a parent of a “special needs” student and adds:

I feel that bringing that perspective and unique voice to the school board is something long overdue.

It would be difficult to have much knowledge of the Madison School Board and not know that Beth Moss is a parent of a student receiving special education services and that both prior to and since her election she has been active locally and at the state level as an advocate on special education issues.  Very difficult; almost impossible.

In a comment on a Wisconsin State Journal editorial on the Edgewater proposal Farley expresses dangerous ideas about open government:

Open meetings pander to people’s fears and mistrust of civic leaders; they hinder enlightened and creative solutions; and they actually enable citizens to continue to harbor unsubstantiated, biased judgements (sic) about everything under the sun. Show me any functioning socialist government (if possible), and I’ll show you a group of leaders still able to email their colleagues, hold a conference call or have a job-related discussion with peers while sitting around the”popular table” in the “People’s Cafeteria”. Here in Madison we can’t do any of that without posting a meeting notice one week prior.

Open meetings certainly sound “fair”, but fair doesn’t create great cities.

Yow.  Pretty scary (regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of public input and open meetings).

Farley’s been very busy in comments sections lately, interested voters may also want to check out his thoughts on the Freedom From Religion Foundation posted on the recent Isthmus story .

One thing I can say for Farley’s announced opponent, James Howard is that he has a good awareness of the workings of the Madison schools and School Board developed over years of active involvement.  In fact the headline of the story announcing his run read: “James Howard, active in Madison schools, to run for Winston’s board seat.”  He served on the East Area Long Range Planning Committee a few years ago and on the recent Strategic Planning Team.  I worked with him when we were both among the co-chairs of the 2006 Community and Schools Together (CAST) referendum campaign (he wasn’t active in the 2008 effort) and on Beth Moss’s 2007 campaign.  He’ll bring some knowledge and experience to the race.

Maya Cole announced her candidacy for re-election in an email to supporters on December 27.  It reads in part:

Although I am far from satisfied with what we have accomplished (a personality flaw), I do believe I have provided some valuable input and initiative and that we have made progress in many policy areas where we: formalized the process of evaluating the superintendent; created a better process for charter initiatives; evaluated our expulsion process to be consistent across the district; widened the scope of measures that determine the success of students in the district; and, expanded the involvement of community members in our deliberations regarding mathematics, four-year-old kindergarten, school nutrition/lunches and technology in MMSD.

I’ll just note that I don’t consider not being satisfied “a personality flaw” and send her this Replacements song as a reminder.

I don’t believe Beth Moss has made a formal announcement, but she’s gathering signatures and went through the process to win the Progressive Dane endorsement for her re-election effort.

It isn’t too late for more candidates to enter; the filing deadline is January 5. 2010.   Whatever my thoughts about all of those already declared, I think that contested races are good for democracy and democracy is good for the schools.   All the filing information are here.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under education, Elections, Local News, Uncategorized

14 responses to “Off to the Race(s)?: Madison School Board Election (Updated, 1-5-2010)

  1. Looks like I came up one signature short – after a number were DQ’d for being dated incorrectly. Many a pro golfer has lost a tournament for signing an incorrect scorecard, so I now feel that pain too. More than anything I would have liked the opportunity of this campaign to correct many of the assumptions and preconceived opinions about me. I would hope that anyone who has read my book or reads my forum posts would perceive that I make every attempt to be open & honest (for starters, I’ve always made my online identity pretty clear). Many false impressions about me seem to generate from some existing pre-conceptions – since my pubic comments (if truly contemplated and understood) are pretty straight forward.

    So, I would like to provide some clarity to the rants and reports that have made the rounds about me. For starters, I’ve never claimed to have a “relatively long standing Democratic affiliation”. I was pretty clear that it has been a “journey”. And it truly has – with the help of many here in Madison. Since returning to Madison I’ve voted D more often than R, and have been a paid member of the Dem. Party of Dane County for over a year now -long before considering a run for Lt. Gov on GOP side (I’ve adjusted my meds, so everything should be OK now).

    My desire to run for school board resulted in my previous consideration for a statewide position. As much as I love Wisconsin, I love Madison much more. I served the city on numerous committees and commissions in my six years back home (certainly more than my would-have-been opponent). For the last 12 years I have been in more middle and high schools (in Wisconsin and across the country) than I can count. I’ve been told countless times that I’ve made a huge impact on the lives of kids & teens – and have impressed many teachers along the way. I often joke that the average fee I’ve received for this work is a school T-shirt – and that’s pretty accurate. As to my comments regarding special needs students – my intent was to suggest that advocacy for that group is still below the level it deserves – and that is what is long overdue. I was hoping that the addition of my voice in this area would help, and not to imply that no one else was paying any attention to this issue.

    I’ll have to say the most amusing accusation so far is my deeply embedded ties to private education. Yes, my parents did send me to private schools – 30 years ago. However, as a parent myself I have had my kids in public schools K-12 – and that includes all the years we lived in Connecticut (ground zero for private education). It was Madison’s public schools that helped my kids understand and embrace their new home and community here. I’ll never underestimate that fact.

    Finally, my interest in public office is driven by a desire to see things go forward, higher, better – not as a reflection on what is wrong, or who isn’t effective. I never looked at the school board members and thought, “I can do better” or “they aren’t focused on the right issues”. It was always about what I could add – most of which was simply the will to just work hard at getting closer to our grandest vision for our public education. If anyone ever mistrusted that, or heard something different, all they ever had to do was ask me. To date, no one ever has.
    *And by the way, I was literally “thrilled” that Brenda signed my nomination papers. I hope we can get to know each other better – I think she’d find we have a lot more in common that she (or I) ever thought. Thanks, Tom Farley

  2. Tom

    Thanks for the information. I too wish there had been a contested race.

    Just to be clear my phrase “relatively long standing” referred to your own references to voting for Obama, membership in the Dane County Dems “for over a year” gives a similar timeline. “Relatively long standing” still seems right and I think it is more than fair to contrast this with your September interest in a GOP Lt. Gov. candidacy.

  3. I’ve heard a rumor that Tom Farley will be contesting the signature issue.

    In general, I support easy ballot access but have to say that gathering signatures isn’t hard, that smart candidates gather many more than needed (James Howard submitted about 300 when only 100 were required) and they submit early so that if any are disallowed they have time to get more. I have mixed feelings about the challenge.

    Updates — Susan Troller confirms the rumor here.

  4. Actually, this wasn’t about contesting signatures. It concerns correcting a few signer’s “typos”, if you will (typos that I admittedly should have caught). For instance, some people dated their signatures 1/4/09 instead of 1/4/10, while another recorded their school district (Madison) where they should have recorded their municipality (Fitchburg). I was pleased to find (after consulting with the BOEd attorney) that there was a very simply process for correcting those errors; obtaining and filing signed affidavits (3 altogether).

    Again, this is not a “challenge”, so I’m not sure what would cause anyone to have “mixed feelings” is this case. I would hope that the ideal in anyone’s mind would be to have an actual race for this seat. We now have the opportunity to discuss the real issues we will be facing, and to give voters a choice between two differing styles and philosophies to confront those issues.

    Time will tell who the “smart” candidate will be here. To me, making this an issue would seem as ill-advised as trying to tell me that I’m not, or can’t be, a Democrat (because, well; such people know what’s in my heart better than I do – right?). In any event, I’m really looking forward to this race. After writing a book detailing my family’s struggles with addiction, I’m quite comfortable baring my soul. My style is to be very open, honest and direct, so you won’t get any white-washed, dodgeball answers from me – that I promise. Thanks, TJF

  5. Tom

    “Challenge,” “contest,” I’d be happy with another one word description of your actions in relation to the clerk’s determination that you did not have sufficient valid signatures. I really don’t care about the semantics.

    I never questioned whether you can or can’t be a Democrat. I just made it clear that six months ago and after you say you formally joined the Democratic Party you declared for office in a Republican primary.

    Just as you can have whatever party affiliation you want, I can have whatever feelings I have.

    My mixed feelings are based on competing ideas. Like you I think a discussion of the issues in the context of an election is generally healthy. I also fear that a candidate who can’t handle something as simple as submitting signatures will be wasting everyone’s time and that they don’t deserve a spot on the ballot. If you put as little thought and effort into preparing to discuss the issues as you did in getting on the ballot, I don’t anticipate a very substantive campaign. I have mixed feelings.

  6. Two more things.

    First, in fairness I have to say that I haven’t heard much substantive from either candidate. It is early yet, so I hope that changes.

    Second, I’m not so sure that the district’s legal counsel should be involved in this manner. If any candidate wants to learn the law they can hire their own attorney and not use one paid for by the taxpayers. I don’t blame Mr Farley for asking for the information but perhaps the response could have been “our involvement is not appropriate.” I haven’t consulted the statutes so maybe everything was kosher, but it makes me uncomfortable.

  7. I’m torn. I was one of those people who signed Farley’s papers at the last minute when he needed a few more signatures, and I did date it 1/5/09. Joel Plant quickly told me I made a mistake and I corrected it. So, I understand how mistakes are made.

    On the other hand, I always turned in the maximum number of signatures they would take. For city council you only need 20 signatures and they would only take 40. So, I turned in 40. In this case I would think you would have turned in 120 at least, to allow for some mistakes. If not 200 to show that you have alot of support and are willing to work hard to win.

    And, I appreciate the city clerk’s office following the letter of the law. But I also think that Farley should challenge it and prove that his signatures are legit.

    So, as I said, I’m torn.

  8. I understand now. You prefer confrontation, not dialogue – not my natural style, but OK.
    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that after providing you more insight and background (dared to correct?); you retort by claiming it’s just “semantics”. It’s pretty evident that your comments are not the simple result of poor english. You clearly used “challenge” to imply something negative, and that by rights I don’t belong on the ballot. At least have spine to be open about that. Everything else you snipe about is simply assumptions, opinions and flat out judgments. For someone who has never met me and knows next to nothing about me, you certainly can go into detail about my character, personality and beliefs. How open minded of you. Clearly no matter what I say during this race, you’re one person who won’t be critiquing or honestly evaluating my views – you already seem to have those down.

    And you even go on to imply that both the BOE counsel and I have operated outside the bounds of legal propriety. Pretty stiff accusation. I’ll say again, I called the District to inquire about the next steps of the process. That is hardly seeking counsel (in fact, the attorney specifically said that he was prohibited from offering such legal advice). But, as is the right of any citizen, it was absolutely appropriate to inquire about the process itself.

    Once again, I have provided you with complete details on what has transpired. You can certain continue posing “questions”, or feeling “uncomfortable” or brushing off any clarity you’re provided as just being semantic. But as long as you continue to use those tactics to make thinly veiled accusations about me or imply negative intensions on my part, I will also continue to respond with the truth – and call you on it.

  9. Tom

    You make many assumptions.

    I had no idea “challenge” had negative connotations in this context You learn something everyday. I’ll ask again, is there a better one word description?

    In terms of the consultation with Dan Malin (who by the way is not involved in this or any other election in any official capacity and probably should have said no more than that when you called) I specifically excluded you from any possible wrong doing.

    You boast of being “quite comfortable baring my soul” but react badly when I say I have mixed feelings or am not comfortable with the actions of a district employee.

    You are right, I don’t know much about you, but the more I learn the less I think you are suited for public office.

  10. Fair enough – we’ll simply agree on “bad English”.

    Then, maybe you can explain how, “if any candidate wants to learn the law they can hire their own attorney and not use one paid for by the taxpayers” isn’t accusatory or implies I had acted improperly?

    I attempted to provide you – in a very positive tone – with additional clarity. Rather than a “thanks for provide some background”, your response was to make additional implications. And now you’re saying that I’ve “responded badly”.

    From the very start you placed the burden of “making you more comfortable” on me (by directly questioning my actions). Perhaps you’re the one that needs to provide clarity here. Exactly how does all of this make you “uncomfortable”? What points of procedure or ordinances were violated, and by whom?

    Any public official that does not value truth or demand it of others, and openly provides clarity when clarity is sought, isn’t doing what is required to uphold the public trust. If not that, then maybe you can also explain to me what sort of pubic official actually does “suit you”?

  11. Dan Malin is paid to handle the legal affairs of the district, not to deal with election matters. I’m uncomfortable with him dealing with election matters period (not what he is paid to do).

    I’m doubly uncomfortable that there is the appearance that his actions may have aided a candidate. People on the public payroll should act in ways that don’t invite suspicion — “like Caesar’s wife” — especially attorneys.

    I realize there are a lot of “ifs” and “mays” and “appears.” If it was clear there had been something wrong, I would have been much more than uncomfortable. Expressing my discomfort is one way of reminding public employees that someone is paying attention.

    I wrote to someone in private that if it was only “____is the administrative rule, based on _____statute” it isn’t a big deal. Not his job, but not a big deal. It sounds like that was more or less what it was. Maybe he gave you a copy of the rule or statute too? If that’s it, then a little bigger, but nothing major….slippery slope and that’s why I still think the best answer would have been “not my job.”

    Again, I don’t blame you at all for asking for clarification. BTW — I think that the City Clerk and Attorney are paid to provide that clarification and it may be in the Candidate packet (if it isn’t, it should be).

  12. Tom

    I just want to add that I do appreciate your willingness to engage. I also hope that if things go forward this election focuses more on the difficult choices Board members face and less on personalities, especially mine.

    The candidate’s backgrounds and personalities belong in the mix, but not to the exclusion of policy matters.


  13. Thanks. I too feel that we’re back to where we should be – and I’m pretty sure everyone is happier for that! I was expecting Brenda to step in any second and give us the “Obama sit-down”.

    But yes, I do feel strongly about being upfront, open and engaged. More than that, when you have a younger brother like I did, you spend a lot of time trying to disprove any misperceptions people may have about you. I know; running the Chris Farley Foundation and making motivational presentations in schools for the last 12 years may makes you wonder how successful that’s been!


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