Letting Everyone Be Heard

Sunday, January 13, 2008

D.C. MAYOR Adrian M. Fenty (D) has a lot of good reasons to think it makes sense to have separate meetings to air the public's thoughts on his school closings plan. But he's wrong not to give in to demands for a more traditional public hearing. With so many important school issues at stake, it's time people on both sides of this issue grow up.

Mr. Fenty caused a flap when he and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee decided that instead of having one public hearing, there would be 23, or one for every school slated to be shuttered. They rightly noted that separate hearings would make it easier for parents to talk about concerns specific to their schools. Commutes would be easier, and speakers wouldn't have to either out-shout or out-wait others. The problem, though, is that the very essence of the public hearing -- to have decision makers hear directly from the public -- is thwarted. Skipping from meeting to meeting or having subordinates stand in is a poor substitute.

Mr. Fenty is justified in believing that he and his administration have been listening. He already has held numerous community meetings about the closings, and the D.C. Council is devoting all of tomorrow to letting people speak their piece. But what's the harm in going the extra mile to erase any doubt that people are getting a fair hearing? It's a fair question, even though those who are yelling the loudest about the hearings are being disingenuous. Their irresponsible calls for a boycott of the mayor's meetings demonstrate they have no interest in a public discussion of the facts. It's obvious their only aim is to criticize, harass and try to stop the mayor as he goes about the painful but needed job of closing schools. Mr. Fenty shouldn't let them get the upper hand.

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