From the March 11, 2014 ICCSD board meeting. (Transcript below.)
The proposal to regulate public comment at school board meetings seems to be motivated in part by a discomfort with any criticism that is directed toward specific people. When a member of the public starts to criticize specific board members or administrators by name at a board meeting, it’s as if a taboo has been broken. General criticism is one thing, but naming names goes too far. It’s the quickest way to tell the troublemakers from the team players.
Our school board’s chair, for example, has regularly prefaced the public comment sessions of board meetings with this warning:
We ask that you refrain from making personal or disparaging remarks about staff, students, or any other district personnel. Please keep your comments focused on programs and policies, not people, or you will be asked to stop immediately.This norm against naming names is probably great for preserving peace and harmony when you visit your relatives at the holidays, but it’s not a recipe for good government. Keep in mind that district “staff” includes the superintendent. On its face, the chair’s first sentence prohibits any disparaging comments about the job performance of the superintendent and other central administrators charged with running the school system—though it does not prohibit favorable comments about them. The chair’s second sentence says that you will be asked to stop immediately if your comments are focused on “people”—which, of course, describes not only staff but elected board members as well.
But policies and practices don’t just materialize out of thin air. People make them. Voters seldom get to vote on policies or practices; they vote for individual people who run for the school board, which in turn hires the superintendent. If voters can’t connect policies and practices to actual people, they have no way to hold anyone democratically accountable for what happens in the school system.
The video above is a good example. During the discussion of the proposed public comment policy, one board member asked, “Who wrote the policy?” Another board member explained that “it showed up” at a committee meeting. The rest of the group fell silent. Then one administrator said he didn’t remember writing it, though he remembered that the district’s lawyer somehow “looked at it” before it was drafted. Then another administrator said that he worked on it with the administrator who doesn’t remember writing it—all because “it was asked for.” Good luck figuring out who initiated that policy.
At the most recent board meeting, the chair did not recite the usual warning before the public comment session. I don’t know what accounts for the change, but it’s a step in the right direction.
A transcript of the video appears after the jump.
Tuyet Dorau: So you’re the chair of the policy and engagement committee, and this came under your watch. So who wrote the policy?
Brian Kirschling: It showed up at the first policy and engagement meeting of this year.
Dorau: Who wrote the policy? Does anybody know?
Dorau: That’s a problem.
Sally Hoelscher: I have not . . .
Superintendent Steve Murley: I know that initial conversations about the policy were with Joe [Holland, the board’s legal counsel], in the room—I don’t recall who wrote drafts of it, as it went through, but I know he looked at it prior to actually being drafted, and I think that some of the comments that I read [earlier in this meeting] were part of that dialogue that we had with him about that at that time, too.
Dorau: So it was written by administration?
Murley: No, I don’t believe we wrote it, I—to be honest with you, I don’t recall.
Chief Human Resources Officer Chace Ramey: Yes, it’s true. Tuyet, yes, yes, a conversation that came back to us, and Steve [Murley] and I worked on it, after some conversations with Joe, and it was put together then, and sent back as it was asked for.