Eddie Perez gives new meaning to the term strong mayor. Besides running the capital city and heading the school building committee, he has appointed himself to the Hartford school board. What's more, he was elected its chairman Tuesday night.
"It's not about being king," says the mayor, it's about being accountable.
Mr. Perez prefers to take matters into his own hands, a style that has prompted not a few constituents to accuse him of hubris. His unprecedented self-appointment will no doubt be misconstrued by some as an audacious power grab.
We don't believe that his taking on the school board assignment is a result of excessive pride or the work of a bully. It stems from Mr. Perez's sincere belief that his guidance is needed to improve student performance. He has a vision of preparing students for four-year colleges that he wants to shepherd himself.
But this time the mayor risks overextending himself. Running a city at a critical juncture in its economic renaissance, one with poverty and safety challenges as well, is far more than a full-time job. Being chairman of the school board in a struggling system is also highly demanding. How can any one person do justice to both?
Mr. Perez is right that the school system is still not where it should be; his impatience with the status quo is understandable. But that's why cities hire strong superintendents. The mayor already has control over who sits on the school board. The city charter gives him the power to appoint five of the nine members. Surely there is a candidate he can trust to advance his agenda for a healthy school system and to hold the superintendent accountable without Mr. Perez having to be at the head of the table himself.
The dual-job arrangement has potential for some very awkward moments. City Hall and the Board of Education are separate for good reasons, among them the notion that students shouldn't have to do without books because the city needs a new snowplow. How will the mayor/chairman handle competing financial interests? Will school board members be reluctant to disagree with their chairman/mayor? Will the dual role have a chilling effect on the superintendent?
"I'm an organizer of people, Mr. Perez said. "I'm going to organize the school administration. I'm going to organize the school board." Will he do windows as well?
Surely there are citizens out there with sterling organizational skills who could devote more time to the task Mr. Perez has taken on. We have just one word of advice for the over-reaching mayor: Delegate.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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