News Section: 2012 Primary Special Features
Miner Says School Board Needs the Proven Watchdog
Longtime education activist points to his record of service
Local attorney Dave “Watchdog” Miner is a permanent fixture at Manatee School Board meetings where he signs in each week to give public comment and offer his insight on issues ranging from the budget to standardized testing to procedural statutes of the Sunshine Laws. Miner's commitment doesn't end there. Whether it's traveling to Washington or Tallahassee on his own dime to advocate for student issues or holding a sign at education rallies, the former Marine is on the front lines of the battle to reform education. Miner feels that it's this record of service that tells voters everything they need to know in the district 2 school board race.
“Platitudes and political slogans are one thing, but there has been one candidate in this race that has proven his commitment to being a representative for teachers and students, and a watchdog for the taxpayers – and that's me,” said Miner. “The economic realities we face are going to call for hard decisions and the trust of the taxpayers. Right now, I think the board would have a lot of trouble asking for that. I feel I can restore credibility to the board.”
Miner points to his decades of experience working as an advocate for education reform, traveling to Tallhassee and Washington to lobby for changes, and says that he's never run into one of his opponents while holding a sign at local rallies, or showing up tirelessly to school board meetings to hold feet to the fire. Two of the candidates competing in the 4-way non-partisan race are teachers and I asked Miner whether that gave them a perspective he lacked.
“I have no reason to doubt that both of them are fine educators,” said Miner, “or that their teaching experiences have given them experience from that singular and narrow perspective – their classrooms – but what I haven't seen is either of them take any interest in representing their students or fellow teachers prior to deciding they were going to run for this seat. To my knowledge, neither have ever even been elected to their Student Advisory Councils, but yet they're asking the people of Manatee County to elect them to the school board. It's nice that they want to do that, but if they really were committed to serving teachers and students, there are a lot of ways that they could have demonstrated that commitment in their current positions. I have a long-standing record of representing the teachers and students of Manatee County and that's a big reason why the local teachers union has endorsed my candidacy, even with two teachers in the race.”
Miner's commitment is unquestionable and his fierce passion is tempered by a litigator's patience. His office is walled with binders dedicated to the district's fiscal budgets, dating back decades; entire volumes covering various administrators, superintendents and board attorneys. The cabinets of his break room are overflowing with taped meetings, even though he attends practically every single one, often offering his legal opinion when it contradicts that of the school's attorney. He's regularly called on by school board members and citizens in other districts when they suspect procedural snafus or Sunshine Law violations, and he says much of his support stems from the specialized expertise he has in public meeting law.
“I believe that a lot of the legal problems we've had in the district could have been avoided if we had intelligent board oversight at an early stage,” said Miner. “A lot of times the board attorney says something should be done a certain way and then this shield goes up because we're legally covered.” Miner believes that having a knowledgeable attorney on the board could have saved the taxpayers millions in wasted lawsuits and settlements.
Some have questioned whether Miner's sometimes combative relationship with the superintendent and some board members would hurt his ability to work with administrative leaders and on the board. Miner points to his experiences on other boards like Manatee Children's Services, which he described as “a gutsy board that got things done.” He contrasts the time spent with MCS with his experience on the board of the Manatee Opportunity Council, which he described as largely dysfunctional, to demonstrate how the composition of members can make all the difference, noting that he nonetheless proved himself ready and willing to make tough decisions in the two very different environments.
“I ruffled a lot of feathers and didn't always make friends, but I don't serve on a board and give my time and energy to win popularity contests,” said Miner. “A board's job isn't only to vote on policy, but also to hold the leaders charged with implementing the policies accountable. If results aren't being achieved and no one is demanding accountability, then nothing is going to change and board members are not doing their job. Gutsy boards get things done. Sometimes that means rattling some cages in order to serve the children and taxpayers of this district. But if everybody is doing their job, we're going to move mountains and that's what motivates me, not avoiding conflict.”
Miner says that it won't be easy to change the “culture of corruption” that has infected much of the administrative arm of the district. He complained of consent agenda votes on hidden raises which are often disguised in job description changes, and described a prevailing understanding that if you support the status quo you will be rewarded, while those who speak out are often indirectly punished. But for change to happen, he's confident it will take someone with his credibility and experience, and if voters elect him to serve the board, he says they can count on his tenacious resolve to work toward restoring an environment in which the education of the district's children once again surpasses political concerns as the primary focus of the Manatee School Board.