The following commentary is by Harris County Republican Precinct 457 Chair James Yaklin.
The United States is not a democracy. It’s a republic. In a democracy the majority rules; in a republic, the individual is protected from the majority.
When building this nation that we call home and that has become the greatest nation on the planet, our founding fathers studied the history of many governments. The government that interested them the most was the RomanRepublicthat existed more than 2,000 years before the creation of the United States. The founders liked what they read about the Roman Republic, and they learned some important ideas that they used when our government was created.
A republican government is characterized by three ideas:
- The power of the government is held by the people.
- The people give power to leaders they elect to represent them and serve their interests.
- The representatives are responsible for helping all the people in the country, not just a few people.
The founders thought a republican government was the best kind of government they could choose for themselves. They believed that the advantages of republican government were:
- Fairness. They believed that laws made by the representatives they elected would be fair. If their representatives did not make fair laws, they could elect others who would.
- Common welfare. The laws would help everyone instead of one person or a few favored people.
- Freedom and prosperity. People would have greater freedom and be able to live well.
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
A simple paragraph that I am sure most of us recognize and know. If you are like me, and grew up in the 70’s you can sing along with a popular animated short that was shown on Saturday morning television. This simple paragraph lays the very foundation of our nation and our government. It should not escape you that Thomas Jefferson chose to include the words “promote the general welfare” in his vision statement. Protection of the individual and minority groups was important to Jefferson and the other founders.
In April, 2005 the United States Department of State published a book, Principles of Democracy, which echoed the founding fathers.
“On the surface, the principles of majority rule and the protection of individual and minority rights would seem contradictory. In fact, however, these principles are twin pillars holding up the very foundation of what we mean by democratic government.
“Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of minority group or individual.
“Minorities – whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate – enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.
“Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and self identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country’s democratic institutions.”
So great were the ideals, concepts, and government that our founding fathers established that the republican form of government filtered down through all levels of our government, right down to the local level. All governing entities in the United States, and the State of Texas, are operated as a republican government — a government that is supposed to protect the rights of the minorities.
In order to further protect minorities in government all of our governing bodies operate under a series of rules collectively referred to as Parliamentary Procedure. The purpose of parliamentary rules of order is to help people make group decisions after a full, fair, and free discussion. All the rules of parliamentary procedure may be traced to four fundamental principles of common sense. These principles can be thought of as the four legs holding up the parliamentary table. If the member of the board, committee, or assembly holds these basic rules in mind, all other rules will fall into place and easily be put into perspective.
- One speaker speaks at a time.
- One question is decided at a time.
- The speaker must be respectful
- Everyone’s rights are protected by balancing them with each other.
Let’s look deeper at the fourth principle. The whole design of the rules of parliamentary procedure is created to balance the rights of the members. The interests balanced by the rules are those 1) of the majority, 2) of the minority, 3) of the individual member, 4) of the absentee members, and 5) of all together. For example, the simple majority vote for most main questions protects the majority’s right to get business done. A two-thirds majority vote protects the rights of a minority larger than one-third when certain significant questions are considered. The rules requiring or not requiring a second protect the rights of individual or the minority to consider or prevent consideration of certain questions. The rules of quorum and notice protect the absentee members. By having the common sense understanding of whose rights are protected by any particular rule, both the member and the group will appreciate the rule and how the rule operates within the greater scheme of applying the rules to particular circumstances. Knowing that the rules are balanced to protect everyone’s rights, not just the majority or just the minority, helps members appreciate why the rules are elaborate.
Now the point that I am getting to is that here in the Katy community something has gone horribly wrong. The Katy ISD Board of Trustees, the governing body for the people’s schools, has been operating under the pretense of Majority rules and no Minority protections for many years. When threatened with minority interests, the board of trustees has modified their rules to protect the majority. This is the basis for the rule requiring at least three members to agree to have an item added to the meeting agenda; thus effectively shutting out the minority.
The board of trustees has ruled with an iron fist with the very people that it is supposed to represent. Last year two patrons, Terri Majors and Laurie McFarling were issued a gag order by then School Board Trustee President Joe Adams. This maneuver was to silence a minority group of critics of Mr. Adams and the other board members. Mr. Adams and the majority of the board of trustees no longer wanted to hear the inconvenient remarks by these two concerned patrons of the district.
Mrs. Majors and Ms. McFarling’s concerns and the concerns of other patrons have not yet been publically addressed despite their multiple appearances to address the board about their concerns. Now, in fairness to the board, the State ofTexasdoes, in fact prohibit the board from addressing items not on the posted agenda. However, the way around this is to either 1) call a special meeting adding these items of concern on the agenda or 2) add these items of concern to the agenda of a regular meeting and then publically addressing them. However, the majority of the board of trustees does not want to discuss these inconvenient items; therefore, these two ladies, who made up a minority interest in the district, were silenced.
Earlier this year, the majority of the board wished to rush a vote during a work-study session on teacher contracts. Two board members, Dr. Bill Proctor and Mr. Terry Huckaby, however had lingering questions and were not prepared to vote without the opportunity to 1) hear from the public and 2) have their questions answered and chose to utilize a protection afforded to them under parliamentary procedures. These minority board members ultimately lost this battle and were publically ridiculed for their efforts and denigrated by then Board of Trustees President Joe Adams and Superintendent Alton Frailey and other members of the community. The majority once again attempted to silence the minority.
For many years now, I and a growing group of members of the community have called for more transparency and communication from Katy ISD. We have asked for meetings or informal round-table discussions with the current board members. To date the only board members that have bothered to hold regular town hall meetings are Dr. Bill Proctor and Terry Huckaby. The majority of the board members have refused and cited a variety of excuses including poor attendance to these types of events. However, Dr. Proctor’s town hall meetings are usually very well-attended. In fact, the majority of the board members do not want to hear from the community. Instead, the majority of the board members would rather listen to a small group of supporters, mostly district vendors or those seeking business deals with the district. I guess in this case the majority of the board members do, in fact support minority groups’ interests; although, this is arguably not a healthy way to govern.
What went wrong?
Going forward Katy ISD will be governed by a new board, with two new members, Mr. Bryan Michalsky and Mr. Charles Griffin, joining the board. The old majority of members have been reduced to three, Board of Trustees President Rebecca Fox, Mr. Joe Adams, and Mr. Henry Dibrell. The board is, of course, rounded out with Dr. Proctor and Mr. Huckaby. The question the board and the Katy ISD community now faces is will all people, majority and minority, be represented by this governing body? I sincerely hope that the Board of Trustees will honor the spirit of our founding fathers and listen to, represent, and respect all members of the community.