For rubber-stamp boards, no accountability needed

By Mike Anthony

Given the number of years we’ve covered municipal and school boards, it’s become very easy to spot board members who can be considered rubber stamps.

We call them rubber stamps because no matter what the issue is, they can be expected to rubber-stamp the wishes of the administration and/or special-interest groups.

Voters are very perceptive, and often when they learn who the rubber-stamp members are, they tend to vote them out of office.

But that’s not an option if the board in question is comprised of appointed members — such as the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees, whose members are appointed by County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, or the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees, whose members are appointed by the county executive.

It’s a political fact that those who serve on appointed boards are accountable only to the person who appointed them — not the public. In fact, the vast majority of those serving on appointed boards could care less about the public.

Just try to contact a member of the MSD board or the library board.

Good luck.

You can’t email any of the MSD trustees directly, as all correspondence to them is directed to a district employee. That’s somewhat better than the library board, as no email contact information is included for board members on the library’s website.

You do have the option to address the MSD board and the library board during periods for public comment at their meetings. That’s not a guarantee that you’ll be heard, though.

If the chairman doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, you might be removed from the meeting room before completing your remarks, or the chairman might abruptly end the meeting before all speakers are heard.

The bottom line of both boards is an appalling lack of accountability to the public. But the public doesn’t matter to them. To retain their seats, members of appointed boards cannot rock the boat or create any controversy.

Members of appointed boards serve at the pleasure of those who appoint them. In other words, only rubber stamps need apply.

Since such board members can’t be removed from office by voters, the only option the public has is to hold the elected officials who appointed them accountable at election time.