Tuesday, December 31, 2013
CITIZEN COMMENTS NOT WELCOME AT SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS
Davis School Board Members
Back left: David Lovato, Larry Smith, Peter Cannon, Kathie Bone
Front left: Barbara Smith, Superintendent Bowles, Tamara Lowe, Burke Larsen
When I first attended a Davis District school board meeting, some four years ago in 2009, I noticed there was little opportunity for members of the public to speak to the school board in their formal school board meeting. I researched the board policy and found that if a citizen wants to bring up an issue to be heard on the agenda of the school board meeting they must submit the request in writing at least one week in advance of the next school board meeting. The board president has authority to decide whether to hear that matter at the coming board meeting.
If a citizen wants to comment on an item which already appears on the agenda of a coming board meeting she is required to submit a form explaining what she would like to say and submit that form 24 hours in advance to the board president. The board president then may or may not authorize the person to speak in the board meeting. This process is so restrictive and cumbersome that only one person has successfully requested permission to speak to the board at its meeting during the last four years.
As a new school board member, I asked the school board on numerous occasions to loosen the restrictions on public comment in our school board meetings. I've asked them to replicate the kind of comment openness that is available at the state legislative committee meetings. There each agenda item allows for public comment so the legislators feel comfortable that the public has been heard before they vote on the matter. For two years the school board refused to accept my request.
Board opposition to public comment in board meetings became a campaign issue during the 2012 election cycle. In January, after the elections were over, several board members indicated a new willingness to consider loosening the restrictions on public comment in school board meetings. After a two-month delay, the board discussed how we might modify our policy and then assigned our school district attorney to draft a revised policy. For some time we considered the wording of the newly drafted policy. Finally, on October 22 of 2013 the board held its final vote on approval of the revised policy. Click here to see proposed revised policy
Before the final vote, I suggested a few changes to the proposed policy to make it more convenient and meaningful for citizens speaking to the board. My proposed amendments were rejected by the board. Larry Smith moved that we approve the new policy as originally presented to us. David Lovato, Kathy Bone, Burke Larsen, Barbara Smith and board chair Tamara Lowe voted against the motion. This left the Davis School District with the same old restrictive policy we have had for years.
All of the discussions in which I participated with the school board over the last four years have indicated that they really do not want the public to be able to comment in school board meetings. In discussions to revise our policy they consistently minimized the public opportunity to speak to the board in public. Then they voted against what little amount they had allowed into the proposed revision.
Our government of the people and by the people needs more openness in hearing from its citizens. The Davis School Board would do well to emulate the example of our state House of Representatives and Senate in committee meetings.