Mail bag, voice mail, buttonhole conversations—people pose interesting questions.

In most cases the questioners don’t think I have the answers—just that I might have a source to suggest, or might poke around and find out. It’s as if I have a license to be nosy. Call it a peskiness privilege.

On a snowy Monday morning, someone calls and says, “Why are they having school?” The questioner goes on to describe road conditions, and state that in many other places schools are closed.

It seems to me Port Allegany School District has a sort of tradition, or an ongoing policy, that school should not be closed except in dire circumstances. Other schools may close, but we are made of sterner stuff.

It is a pain, making the necessary arrangements and getting the word out, I am sure. No one wants to think of little kids standing there in blustery weather, waiting for a bus that isn’t coming.

Parents who are working hate having to make other arrangements for child care during a school day that has turned into a no-school day. Child care and transport problems also multiply when there is early dismissal.

Still, safety trumps convenience. There are some things we can gamble with, but not lives, not the safety of children.

Maybe the matter will be discussed at the school board meeting—especially if the caller is able to come to the meeting.

That brings me to the question of why the school board has to hold its annual reorganization meeting on the first Monday of December, which conflicts with the meeting of two municipalities that lie with the district. By law it must be in that first week, but not necessarily on Monday.

And why do municipalities old their re-orgs on the first Monday of January?

Newly elected officials need to be seated as early in the year as possible. We didn’t have municipal elections this year, but the officers of each board should be elected as early as possible and the board organized for work.

But why have all the reorganizational meetings on that first Monday? Why not just in the first week of January rather than all on the same night?

I asked one official about that. He looked bemused. “Most of us are not on more than one elected board,” he pointed out. Then he added, “I can see that it does make things difficult for reporters.” Sounds sympathetic, right? You had to be there to understand, from the grin and the eyebrow wagging, that he thought making things difficult for reporters might be a good thing.

Yes, it does stimulate my curiosity, whenever I get the impression that official types are trying to keep public information private. But that’s a different issue. Making it difficult for the press to attend public meetings is also making it difficult for the public to attend them.

How many members of the public want or need to attend meetings of two public bodies? Not so many, I’ll grant you. But sometimes some do. Case in point: the person who was concerned because our schools were open today also is a faithful attender of meetings of a municipality. That good citizen would have to miss the December meeting of the municipality to attend the re-org meeting of the school board.

Here’s another perplexing situation. There are strict residency rules that apply to running for judge. The individual must live in the county to run for judge of the Court of Common Pleas of that county. Having run and been elected, that judge must continue to live in that county to remain on the bench.

But if there is a vacancy on the bench in “county court,” as there has been on ours for a long time now, senior (think “retired”) visiting judges from wherever (well, not out-of-state) can be ordered up, and those visiting judges can dispense justice with as much authority as if they lived here and had been elected by us.

There have been qualified appointees, I understand, and Governor Ed Rendell could have sent names of nominees to fill various court vacancies, all this time, but it was understood that the legislature would not vote to confirm those appointments.

It’s much cheaper to pay per-diem stipends to senior visiting judges.

I think I have seen some of those senior visiting judges experience senior moments—rather protracted ones, actually. I know that remark smacks of ageism, but didn’t those judges retire because they were of retirement age and because their jobs are demanding and even stressful? Maybe too much for most people that age (except for SCOTUS, where judges are appointed for life and can be doddering long before they hang it up).

The legislature or Rendell or both have been cutting costs by rationing justice, seems to me. Many civil matters and criminal cases are kept waiting, and many are being decided by persons who could not be elected judge here.