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Tick, Tock: 10-Minute Rule On Public Comment Approved

Board of Education approves measure limiting public comment time to 10 minutes a speaker

The Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure to limit public comment to 10 minutes for each speaker.

The vote on the board's new bylaw — #0167 — was 6-0. Board President John Tavis and member Deidre Kukucka were absent. Former board Vice President Laurie Cannon unexpectedly quit last week. Her position has not been filled.

No member of the board, nor of the public, spoke about the measure prior to the vote.

Board member Anne Moonan has said the new bylaw was borne from the marathon June 12 meeting, which brought out scads of residents and district parents in protest of planned changes to the Intermediate School schedule.

“This was a tough decision and I really thought very hard about it because I did not want to limit it because I did not want to limit any public participation at all,’’ Moonan has said. “But when our meetings were going on until 2:30 in the morning and after public comment we still have a great deal of work to do, we did have to shorten our public comment to a reasonable amount of time.’’

Since January, the Board of Education has held 19 meetings. Some of those meetings have been special, emergency, meetings held in the afternoon hours.

But of those 19 meetings, only four have lasted past 11 p.m. One of those four, on July 10, lasted until 11:35 p.m., but only after the board went into an hour-long closed session at 10:25 p.m. according to meeting minutes.

Since the beginning of the year, only the June 12 meeting lasted until 2:30 a.m., according to meeting minutes.

Board President John Tavis has said the limit was an idea the board had been kicking around for some time.

“We’ve been discussing this for awhile,’’ Tavis has said. “We’re always very cognizant of public participation but also the efficient running of the meeting.’’

Michael Ferrell September 12, 2012 at 12:32 PM
The board has been encouraged by the public many times to take some positive actions around the public comment section. What should be know is the new provision not only limits individuals time, but lets the board limit the overall time for all to whatever they feel is appropriate. Hopefully that will not be abused to restrict input from the community. Another provision will help control the amount of material dumped on the board in the comment session, requiring materials to be submitted the wednesday before the board, and if submitted at a meeting, the board can hold off discussion till the next meeting. That seems appropriate as the public comment session should not be an ambush. What the board has failed to do in this new policy is state clearly that the session is for public comment. There are many individuals who believe public comment is their time for a semi private Q&A session with the board. The board needs to halt the item by item Q&A that occurs much too often and hold those speaking to comment. In general a good move, we'll see how it works in practice!

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