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Letter: What Happened To Civility and Open Debate?

Lakeridge PTA President and Mercer Island Schools Foundation board member Cliff Sharples writes in a letter to the editor that he is dismayed by "disinformation" that is trying to "discredit endorsers of the school bond".

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

What happened to civility and open debate on Mercer Island? From what I can see, there are a handful of extremely vocal opponents to the school bond measure who are doing almost everything they can to get residents to vote no. There seems to be absolutely no regard for facts and a campaign of discrediting anyone who supports the bond.

When the property was raised, naysayers of the bond distributed an inflammatory, doctored diagram being passed off as the plan for how would be sited to all the property’s neighbors. When the endorsed and then financially supported the bond measure, there were false accusations that the Foundation was behaving illegally because of their non-profit status. When Kris Kelsay tried to get her personal opinions heard based on the almost 2 years of work she’s done studying the school facilities issue, there were attacks on her work as . The list goes on…

Debating the issues and the proposed construction plan is one thing. Public discussion is important, which is why the District held over 20 public meetings around the school facilities issue in the past 2 years. Public input is critical, which is why the school board commissioned the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee, and it’s 20 community volunteers representing a cross-section of the Island’s population and constituents, to spend a year researching the situation, exploring alternatives and making a recommendation. Being responsive to public desires is also something the school district’s administration is sensitive to, which is why they recommended to the school board, who in turn agreed, to rebuild Island Park Elementary on its current site based on the neighborhood’s feedback.

Efforts to discredit people and organizations that do not share your opinion, however, are not appropriate. This appears to be one of the key strategies of the people behind this “no reinvestment of school infrastructure” campaigns. Let’s not let a few vocal naysayers who are spreading disinformation and trying to discredit endorsers of the school bond distract us from really studying the aspects of this fiscally responsible, solid and well-constructed plan to keep Mercer Island Schools great for the next 50 years.

Thank you and Sincerely,

Cliff Sharples

Jerry Goldberg March 29, 2012 at 05:46 AM
I totally agree with the letter about civility (or lack there of) in public debates, i.e. on the bond issue. But let's not fool ourselves that it hasn't come from both sides on the issue in letters, articles, etc. Those opposed to the bond issue that want to contribute to the 'no' campaign but don't want their names published have been criticized as trying to 'buy the political process' on the Island. Civility needs to be a universal trait here.
Ira B. Appelman March 29, 2012 at 07:12 AM
This civility claim is the last refuge of proponents losing a civic argument. It's a lame attempt to supress disagreement using misdirection. Fortunately, it never works. I'll briefly address Sharples three examples: (1) When the District said that Island Park would be rebuilt on the Stevenson property, I made a public records request for all records including email etc. concerning site traffic. I received a single drawing which I circulated and posted on MI Patch. The drawing showed access on SE 62nd to the west. Apparently, neighbors circulated a reasonable leaflet showing what traffic would look like if the school was built. If the District doesn't want neighbors to fear traffic off SE 62nd STOP CREATING DRAWINGS SHOWING AN ACCESS OFF SE 62ND. It was the District's mistake; not the neighbors' (2) Kris Kelsay became a leading proponent of the bond issue based on the Committee (21CFPC) report. When it was revealed by the District that Kelsay was paid $30,000 to run the 21CFPC so her advocacy might be attempt to justify her own work, proponents claimed it was an "attack" to reveal the extent of payments to her. The public has a right to know this information whether the proponents like it or not. (3) There is nothing in the MI Schools Foundation online mission statement that suggests that the 501(c)(3) was lobbying or campaigning, Questions about the propriety of the activities of government, corporations, and non-profit corporations are always appropriate.
David de Yarza March 29, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Cliff, Thank you for writing this letter. I believe Ira and Jerry's comments to also be valid, as I have certainly experienced a lack of civility from some in the 'pro' side, but I must also admit to having crossed lines I wish I had not with some of my comments. It is an unfortunate trait of politics when dealing with a charged issue, but it does not excuse it. So I'd like to offer you and the board of the MISF a public apology in addition to the private e-mail I sent you yesterday. That is not to say that I don't still disagree with some of your points and methods, but I think we can agree that we are working toward a common goal, and thus, I'd like to get back to a more productive tone in the debate. Sincerely, David de Yarza
Lisa Brown Spencer March 29, 2012 at 05:26 PM
David: Thank you. As a Mercer Island School Foundation Board Member and a volunteer with the Citizens for Mercer Island Public Schools, I appreciate your letter. While there are differences of opinion on elements of the bond measure plan, it is clear that we all share the desire to provide the best education for current students and future generations. It is encouraging to live in a community where so many people care enough to engage in the discussion about how to best achieve that goal. Best, Lisa Spencer

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