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  • Noeline Thomson

Letter to the Editor: Why Would Anyone Run for Public Office?

The following letter was written by Noeline Thomson, North Kingstown resident and active member of the NKDTC. Thomson's letter may be read online and/or in the February 8 print edition of The Independent.

Over the last year and a half, three individuals resigned from the North Kingstown School Committee. Some people in NK gloated about this. They viewed it as some kind of “victory” for their side. Bill Seymour, who writes for this newspaper, has suggested in his column that the reasons for resigning may go beyond those given by the individuals leaving, subtly suggesting that there may be something amiss in the School Committee itself.

I’d like to offer a few other more obvious reasons for these resignations. Let’s start with the fact that it’s a very under-appreciated job, as well as a very difficult one. Most of the School Committee members have family responsibilities and full-time jobs. According to one school committee member, on average school committee members spend about 40 hours a month on school committee business and meetings, and sometimes more. And if you think they are doing it for the money, the fact is that School Committee members are paid $3,000 per year for their time. This nets out to a whopping $6.25 per hour.

The people of both parties who ran for these positions knew going in this wasn’t going to be either an easy or well-paid position. They ran because they passionately care about the quality of education in North Kingstown and the well-being of our children and teachers. They thought they brought experiences and knowledge that would contribute to the educational experiences of our kids. They also knew they would be asked to tackle contentious and complicated issues and debate these issues in front of audiences that included people who disagree with their decisions. They knew they would be confronted with other opinions and criticism in public comment periods, newspapers and online, sometimes even face-to-face.

But what they didn’t sign up for was the escalating level of harassment and threat that almost all the school committee members have experienced over the past few years. I’m not referring to people who are sharing their disagreement and anger about a position or decision taken by a school committee member. I’m referring to the character assassination, suggestions of corruption, and threats to their personal safety that NK school committee members now receive on a regular basis generally over social media. What I’m referring to goes way beyond the right to express one’s views and first amendment rights to free speech. What I’m calling out are the social media posts that interfere with a person’s or their family’s sense of safety and security.

No one who joins the North Kingstown School Committee should have to put their personal safety at risk. Nor should they have to ask their spouse and kids to endure menacing posts and threats. No one should have to endure death threats because of their position on our school committee. No one should have to spend their own money to hire lawyers to take out a restraining order against someone threatening them.

All these things are now occurring, and I say it’s just not acceptable. As Town Council President Greg Mancini said in his letter to the Independent as few weeks ago (“It’s time for our community to tone down attacks on public officials” The Independent, Jan. 11, 2024), “We’re better than this”. North Kingstown’s Town Council has always been a place where the free exchange of ideas has been encouraged. But what’s occurring right now has gone way beyond this. So, when you ask yourself why three people have resigned from the School Committee over the past year, ask yourself if you would be willing to endure the harassment and threats that our school committee members have. And ask yourself if you’ve done anything to help prevent this kind of behavior when you’ve witnessed it or seen it online. Did you speak up and challenge this kind “so called free expression of speech”.

I think that it’s a miracle that this town had 11 individuals put forth their name to fill the open school committee positions. North Kingstown is very fortunate that there are so many people who are dedicated to our children and the quality of education in this town. But I fear that the level of intimidation and harassment that is currently occurring against people who run for public office in NK is going to have a very detrimental effect on our ability to find qualified candidates to run for office. That’s going to have a very negative impact on both the quality of our school system as well as our quality of life.

Noeline Thomson

North Kingstown



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