Ten votes at D86 meeting: six or seven too many

You know the quote about insanity?

Last week’s Hinsdale High School District 86 board meeting was a prime example, as the seven-member board did the same thing over and over trying to elect a new president.

They took nine — yes, nine — identical votes before incumbent Kathleen Hirsman withdrew from the race and Terri Walker finally received a majority vote.

After Hirsman took the high road and pulled her name from consideration, it looked like another stalemate would ensue until Peggy James changed her allegiance — after her nominee, Jeff Waters, failed to get enough votes for a 10th time — and supported Walker.

The board appeared to be headed down the same road with a three-way race for vice president. Fortunately, Debbie Levinthal did not accept the nomination and Hirsman was elected over James, who later became secretary.

Several board members tried to put a positive spin on the evening’s events, talking about how lucky residents were to have three board members willing to commit the time to be president, any one of whom could do a fine job.

Nice try, but we weren’t buying it.

First, we agree with the incumbents’ argument that experience serves a board president well. Hirsman is the only board member in her second term, and her six years of experience would be an asset. We realize that the newly elected members defeated three incumbents and agree they deserve leadership roles. We don’t believe those roles have to include president.

We empathize with board member Erik Held, who found himself in the tough spot of serving as president pro tem. But he monopolized the microphone between votes, offering observations that sounded more like lectures and were at times condescending.

And while we agree it took a bit of nerve for the newcomers to insist one of them must be president — as apparently they did in conversations with sitting board members prior to the meeting — we question the incumbents’ assumption that the four of them should have had one candidate lined up before the meeting.

Would it have been more convenient if the newcomers put forward only one nomination? Sure. But as many — notably Levinthal — pointed out, the four are not necessarily a voting block. They shouldn’t be expected to act like one.

The only benefit we see to last week’s meeting is the possibility that it will serve as a learning experience.

Perhaps board members will not assume there are two sides on future votes. It can be highly counter-productive to cast a vote based on a guess as to how another board member is going to vote.

We also hope board members will do a better job of reaching consensus. A refusal to compromise over the course of multiple votes — especially at the very first meeting of the new board — is disturbing. Conviction and loyalty are wonderful traits, as long as they are not carried too far.

The seven board members are all individuals, it’s true. But at times they must set aside their own preferences to reach the best decision the entire board can support.

That’s the only way to keep insanity at bay.