The community has learned a lot from Richard Calabrese.
As he announces plans to step aside effective Jan. 1 from the Collier County School Board, he showed us how to be loyal to convictions and speak out to constituents even when colleagues and others would prefer unchallenged peace and quiet.
Still, he also reminded us of the importance of what is done as well as said. On that score his abbreviated term in office has been a gigantic waste of opportunity and promise.
We would prefer to be laudatory when a citizen works hard to offer himself for public service and then is set back by health issues as severe as his multiple heart attacks in May 2008. But some things need to be said.
His official conduct is instructive on the difference between ruling and leading. He campaigned as a man of the people yet it was all about him, even before he refused to step aside for fuller public representation during his prolonged convalescence.
His constituents in 2006 — when he had more votes, 42,000, than any other candidate, the record shows — wanted change. They wanted a voice in the clubby atmosphere of Collier County’s biggest and most important public enterprise. They did not want what they got — a public official who behaved as if he had contempt rather than respect for Sunshine Laws, women in the workplace and colleagues. He espoused efficiency while spending tax money for hastily dismissed and hired superintendents and legal fees.
His memory was short about campaign promises. He came to power on the theme of “discipline and decency” in our schools and pledged: “I am the kind of person that looks for solutions and will not accept excuses.”
Calabrese’s comment on a possible replacement by the governor frames the problem: “I think it needs to be someone who doesn’t settle for the status quo. I think somebody like me is needed.’’
A board member can challenge the status quo without official conduct like his.
Public office, especially the School Board, can be tough. He made it tougher than it had to be, and now he is doing what he has to do, effective Jan. 1.
He offered himself to serve, and for that he should be congratulated. But, for all the wreckage and ill will left in his wake, it is difficult to say he should be thanked.
One thing, though, is for sure: We hope he gets better and stronger. Everybody deserves that.