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Task forces take on role as shapers of the conversation

Jan. 15, 2013

The door opened a bit more on public policy discussion in Charlotte-Mecklenburg today with Supt. Heath Morrison's decision to order all of his 22 task forces to meet in public after the first organizational meeting.

Asked why the change, one task force co-chair said, "It was the right thing to do."

A jaded public has reason to know that it being the right thing to do is rarely a sufficient reason. Perhaps Morrison will clarify.

The Observer's Ann Doss Helms' report on how longtime CMS critic Tom Davis valued the feedback from folks who were able to sit in the back of the room as an earlier citizen committee met and Davis was a member of the committee.

That's a worthy part of the story, but not all of it, and so I hope some attention will shift to the second part: providing independent means of informing a larger swath of the public about the details of what will be discussed in these 22 task forces between now and June.

As I wrote last week, it is incumbent on the task forces to "find new ways to share your deliberations with the public. Be imaginative. Call on your friends to get the word out."

Democracy is messy, and building consensus in this community on anything schools-related is even messier.

But until that work is done, Morrison will be unable to act. These task forces, if they are to be useful, should be cauldrons of controversy out of which consensus can be formed. No, this is not work for the timid.

And it is not sufficient that task force members come to agreement amongst themselves. That is only the beginning of the task.

The goal, clearly, should be to nurture community consensus by taking the community along for the ride -- giving the community a good, blow-by-blow, thorough airing of every side of every controversial possible solution to whatever issues a particular task force attempts to address.

There's no better way to do that than to produce lots of information about the discussion.

I would hope that every visitor to a task force meeting would be encouraged by the task force co-chairs to write about what they heard while they were visiting. I would hope that every member of every task force would be writing or skyping or videotaping their reflections after every meeting and putting the material not in a binder or a shoebox  but on a publicly accessible website.

And I hope that every task force avails itself of the Internet and social media tools to share its information directly with the public.

No CMS problem has ever been caused by an excess of accurate information.

Steve Johnston