Saturday, October 27, 2007

Uncle May I?

When I was a lad, back in Brooklyn, USA, we played a little street game called “Mother May I?” The rules were simple. One kid, the mother, stood on one end of the backyard. The other kids stood on the other end at the starting line. The mother would then give instructions on how they could cross the divide between them. S/he might say, “Fred, you may take one giant step.” Fred could do nothing until he asked, “mother may I?” The kid playing mother would then either say “yes you may,” or “no, you may not.” Fred would act accordingly. Mother then would go through each of the other kids, instructing them to take giant steps, itsy-bitsy steps, umbrella steps (you had to spin as you moved), jumps, hops or whatever. Slowly the group of children would advance across the backyard toward mother. If, however, one of the players advanced without asking “mother may I,” he or she would have to go all the way back to the starting line.

According to the TD, School Board member Betsy Carr and Mayor Wilder have been playing this game (now called Uncle May I) and Ms. Carr is not winning. It seems that Ms. Carr, as chair of a School Board committee, has been working on the Board’s revised plan for new and renovated school buildings. A Thursday TD article indicated that the School Board committee was holding a meeting next Wednesday and had invited city officials and community leaders to provide their input. Ms. Carr stated that “[a]s we’re moving forward for a great city and making the schools best as possible, we need to get everybody thinking their best thoughts of how we can make it work together.”

Ms. Carr’s motive seemed pure and her position seemed reasonable but as indicated in Friday’s TD, Ms. Carr has made a fatal mistake. Before she moved, she failed to ask Mr. Wilder “Uncle May I?” It makes no difference that Ms. Carr “thought the invitation [to city officials] met Wilder’s desire for better communication between various parts of city government.” It makes no difference that this meeting would accomplish a great deal. Ms. Carr did not ask Uncle Doug for his permission and now she must return to the starting line.

It is tragic that Ms. Carr had to learn this lesson the hard way. Of course, it would be a lot easier if our regal chief executive employed a protocol officer to explain to us mortals which hoops we need to jump through to make His Excellency happy. Then Ms. Carr would have known how to proceed without offending the mayor.

As you might expect, Ms. Carr’s failure to ask “Uncle May I” has converted our benevolent Uncle Doug into the vengeful dictator that he sometimes becomes. He has listed new rules for playing the game in the future. King Doug now insists that before he will accept any further communications from the School Board on the issue of school construction or renovation, the School Board and the School Superintendent must carry out the recommendations made last winter in the City Auditor’s audit of Richmond Public Schools. His Excellency has indicated that his support for new or renovated schools will depend on actions taken by school officials to save money. “When you do this, we’ll do that. It’s a quid pro quo situation,” the mayor said.

I am sorry that this had to happen to a hard-working, independent minded public servant like Ms. Carr. Of course, she is the exactly the type of person that King Doug has been trying to drive out of city government since his coronation. If there is one thing His Excellency cannot stand it is someone who doesn’t answer to him. Ms. Carr, welcome to the long list of public officials who have drawn the mayor’s wrath for trying to do the right thing. I wish you the strength and courage to keep up the good fight.

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