Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Public meetings, not pep rallies

The latest version of the proposal to restrain community comment at school board meetings is at least not facially unconstitutional, so that’s a step in the right direction, I suppose. I like that it allows everyone to speak at the beginning of the meeting, rather than wait around for hours until the board reaches that particular agenda item. I’m not even against some limitation on how much a person could speak, though four minutes per person per meeting is too stingy. But cutting off all comment after an hour is awful. That means as few as fifteen people might be allowed to speak, no matter how controversial the agenda. (Yes, the board could entertain additional speakers at the end of the meeting if “necessary,” and if anyone waits around that long. But what are those speakers going to do, address issues the board has already voted on?)

If the board members want to make their meetings shorter, they should start by cutting the ceremonial photo-ops and check presentations, etc. Committees could submit their reports in writing in advance, and the board could discuss them only if there’s a need. Ditto with administrative PowerPoint presentations. Use the meeting time for things that actually require the presence of board members and the public together in a room.

Some board members are obviously tired of turning the mike over to the district’s critics. They seem to have realized (at long last!) that they can’t actually regulate the tone of people’s comments or prohibit harsh criticism, so the new solution is simply to cut the number of people who are allowed to speak. Yet on several issues—for example, Martin Luther King Day, the Raptor Visitor Management System, and the new bell schedule—the criticism at community comment seemed to make a difference in what the board did. If it can lead to better policy decisions, why cut it off?

School board meetings should be public meetings, not pep rallies, award ceremonies, or advertisements. The board shouldn’t see its job as managing the district’s image, which just comes off as manipulative anyway. Make good policy decisions and the image will take care of itself.


Mary Murphy said...

One way to not make everyone wait around to speak at a specific agenda item would be to add the ability to speak on a specific agenda item to the initial public comment time in addition to permitting those who want to speak at the time of the agenda item to speak then. This would not take away any current rights community members have (as the currently proposed policy unfortunately does) but would build more flexibility into the entire public comment policy.

This would also continue to permit TV viewers who may not watch the whole meeting to see at least some of the comments on agenda items when a hot issue comes up (e.g. closing a school or voting on a bond).

Chris said...

Mary -- I agree. But I can't get too worked up over that portion of the proposal. Still shaking my head, though, that any board members think this issue is worth even a fraction of the time they've invested in it.

Mary Murphy said...

Nero fiddles while Rome burns perhaps?

Sadly, during a period of painful budget cuts, the board has spent money on trying to cut opportunities for public comment.