Robert Zellner shouldnít be fired from his
Cedarburg teaching job for viewing Internet porn at school but his case
does manage to demonstrate the impossibility of ever firing a teacher in
Wisconsin for anything. Teachers union members have amazing job
protections. The fact that his principal, superintendent, school board
and most community members want him canned is virtually irrelevant. An
arbitrator, elected by no one and accountable to nobody, has said
Zellner canít even be punished. Voters and taxpayers have lost control
of their schools to union bosses and bureaucrats.
Zellner was caught using Cedarburg High School computers to visit
pornographic Web sites. How many times he did it and how many sites he
visited are in dispute but both sides acknowledge it happened when
school was closed and with no one else viewing. What we have here is a
married guy with prurient interests who was more concerned about being
caught by his wife than his bosses. What he did is wrong and he ought to
be punished but it seems to be an overreaction to fire him.
The sites Zellner visited were evidently legal and did not involve
child pornography. But it is absolutely inappropriate to use
taxpayer-funded computers to view them. A reasonable response would be
to suspend Zellner for a few weeks without pay. For a lot of reasons,
the school board wants to be harsher. Zellner is a leader of the union
and has bucked the board on several other issues including a
wrong-headed firing of a basketball coach. Theyíre clearly looking for
an excuse to get rid of him.
But the state arbitrator who handled Zellnerís appeal of his firing
was even more off-base. The arbitrator ruled that because the district
did not fire another teacher who used the computer to check stock
quotes, Zellner shouldnít be singled out for a similar violation. Only
a Wisconsin bureaucrat could equate checking the price on Chevron with
skulking around on a porno site. So, both sides are wrong here. But that
really isnít the point.
Tough decisions like this ought to be made by elected officials. The
publicís input deserves to be heard. What may be acceptable behavior
in Madison or Shorewood may be intolerable by residents of Cedarburg or
Cedar Grove. The officials elected by voters in these communities ought
to apply the standards of their local standards. If the public doesnít
like the decision, it has recourse at the ballot box.
Turning over all of these decisions to arbitrators who work for a
Madison-based department compels all of us to accept the standards of
the stateís looniest city. Teachers want to be called
"professionals" but insist on the same job protections as
The school board in Cedarburg is overreacting and Zellner is being
punished for things other than his X-rated Web surfing. But the school
board, not Zellner or an arbitrator, is charged with running the school
system and ought to be given the freedom to do so.
* * *
Zellnerís case is the latest example of someone doing something on
the Internet theyíd never do anywhere else. If Zellner was afraid of
his wife learning he likes to look at dirty pictures, he almost
certainly would never go to an adult bookstore or order his smut from a
mail order outfit. But the Internet somehow seemed "different"
to him. Itís a fascinating social phenomenon that so many people are
risking their lives and careers doing things on the Web that they
otherwise would be terrified to deal with.
* * *
Whatís really obscene isnít the Web sites Zellner was viewing but
the way Jim Doyle has co-opted supposedly independent branches of state
government to stack the deck against Republican opponent Mark Green.
They changed the rules to make Greenís use of federal campaign
funds "illegal" just so Doyle could say "Green broke the
law." Every one of the rulings made in this case has come from
individuals appointed by Doyle.
The state Elections Board that retroactively barred federal campaign
funds in state campaigns is controlled by Democratic appointees and the
decisive vote was made by a Doyle designee. The Dane County judge who
Monday refused to overturn the ruling is a Doyle appointee. If Green
appeals to the state Supreme Court, the decisive vote is likely to be
made by Justice Louis Butler, a Doyle appointee. The witches in Salem
had better shots than Green.
It wasnít always this way. The Republican-controlled Elections
Board four years ago allowed Tom Barrett, in an identical case, to use
federal campaign funds in his state race. There isnít a single case
anyone can cite of a state court judge appointed by a Republican
governor making a blatantly unfair ruling to aid his political sponsor.
Nope, this sleaziness is a further extension of Jim Doyleís perverted
use of his political power. State contracts have been sold and public
policy reversed to aid the governorís contributors. Individuals with
issues pending before state agencies have been shaken down by Doyle
fund-raisers. Now, the very institutions charged with following the law
and protecting our elections are taking orders from Doyle.
Doyle may be re-elected governor of Wisconsin, but it isnít the
same state as the one he won in 2002.
(Mark Belling is the host of a daily WISN radio talk
show and a Sunday television show. His column runs Wednesdays in The