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Open door, open minds

It's been three days since a small group of parents, educators and library workers gathered to discuss whether Judy Blume's book, Deenie, should be on the shelves in Hernando County elementary school libraries.

And, what do you know? The sky did not fall, disproving the Chicken Little-like predictions of some School Board members and administrators, who were miffed that the Times took them to court to make sure the committee reviewing the book did so openly.

The district employees who wanted to keep the door closed on these proceedings, including Superintendent Wendy Tellone, said repeatedly it would be nearly impossible to find volunteers to serve on the committee if the participants' names or comments might be reported in the newspaper. If the process didn't work, they assured us it would be the Times' fault for pushing the point.

They were SO wrong.

The system worked just fine. Its seven members met Thursday afternoon and, in the presence of newspaper reporters, had a grown-up debate about a book, children and balancing the responsibilities of teachers and parents. Their comments and their recommendations were detailed in newspapers the next day, and there were no reports of any committee member being ridiculed, embarrassed or criticized for doing their best to help resolve a controversial issue. End of story.

Well, not quite the end. The committee's recommendation now goes to the superintendent; she will form her own opinion, and then present both to the board, which has the final word on whether Deenie is appropriate reading for elementary school students.

I don't agree with the committee's recommendation, which was to ban the book in elementary schools. There are better ways to control access to the book than to simply yank it off the shelf. That's not fair to the students and parents who want to read it.

But that's a debate for another day.

For now, it's good to know that the committee-in-the-Sunshine approach works. Board members who doubted that it would should resolve to have a little more faith in the public's willingness to participate, absorb information and keep it all in perspective.

Now, if the school district would just schedule the meetings in the late afternoon or evening (this one was held at 3 p.m.), so that working parents could attend.

Be proud, say it loud

It's an election year, and you can hardly swing a stick without hitting a candidate for the Hernando County Commission. There are 16 so far, and I suspect there may be a couple more very soon.

Commission candidates love to attend meetings that are aired on HCGB, which is local Cable Channel 19 and the official broadcasting arm of county government. Although I'm sure the candidates have very altruistic reasons for marching to the microphone and speaking their piece, I also am sure they are taking advantage of the opportunity to gain name recognition and promote their campaign platform.

I don't really blame them. It's free advertising, although to a very limited audience. And, of course, they have as much right as the next county resident to make comments or ask questions about how their government is being run.

But it bothers me that they do not declare their candidacies so that viewers will know they have a vested interest in being there.

Here's an idea: Everyone is required to state his or her name before being allowed to speak at meetings and hearings. Why don't they just say "I'm John Doe, Spring Hill resident and a candidate for County Commission?" No party affiliation, no phone numbers or Web sites, no slurs against their opponents. Just a simple acknowledgement that they are seeking office.

That would be a lot more straightforward than not disclosing the information, which somehow makes them seem a little sneaky or ashamed to those of us who know who they are and what they are up to.

Besides, it could work to the advantage of candidates, especially if what they are saying is in step with what viewers want to hear.