The school saga unwinding in Portland serves as a stark reminder to elected officials, of all stripes, about the dire importance of doing business in public.

Facing crowds of frustrated taxpayers is every official’s last wish, as it indicates severe dissatisfaction with job performance. In the private sector, such appraisals are usually relayed in private one-on-one meetings.

In government, this process can turn into a spectacle.

Portland’s school committee is weathering its own unfriendly performance review, after millions in overspending by the school district was revealed. The board, already scrutinized because of the antics of its members (including a bizarre, drunken taxi ride), is now being asked where the money has gone, and why.

The answers haven’t been reassuring. The latest turn was an alleged illegal executive session, held ostensibly to discuss budgetary issues, a clear violation of open meeting law. The comittee has been challenged in court to divulge the records of that meeting, amid these allegations of mismanagement.

Nobody wants to face the music. Ducking behind closed doors, though, as the committee is accused of, is simply not an option for government. Pursuing and attaining elected office comes with a job description with many branches, all growing from one simple, central, trunk: accountability.

Millions of dollars don’t just disappear. Portland taxpayers are posing questions. So should taxpayers of every community, when their government acts in ways contrary to the public interest.

And when the spotlight illuminates, and questions are asked, elected officials must be ready to answer them.


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