SLO Coastal school board to better explain public comment rules

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 8, 2013 

 The San Luis Coastal school board will not change its public comment policies but has pledged to do a better job of making the rules more transparent to the public.

Typically, speakers are given three minutes to speak on the agenda items. Members of the public are also given three minutes to speak on any topic at the beginning of the meeting. 

However, a discretionary tool written into the school board bylaws allows the school board president to limit the discussion on any given topic to only 20 minutes.

The trustees were recently criticized for using that tool at a meeting about changes at Teach Elementary School that drew hundreds of heated participants.

Board President Walt Millar said the confusion and annoyance about the time limit occurred after he had waived it at two prior meetings to allow lengthy public comment.

“I think I caught some people by surprise,” Millar said.

The board will now be more rigorous in following the rules and make it clear when they are waiving the time limit so that there is not an expectation that unlimited time to speak will be given, he said.

The trustees will also be given the opportunity to vote on extending or limiting the public comment time – something that until now was decided by the board president or clerk.

“In this way, each board member would weigh in publicly with a vote and avoid the appearance of the decision having been made before coming to the table …” wrote Trustee Kathryn Eisendrath-Rogers, who spoke out against the limitations at the last contentious board meeting.

Kim Holmes, executive assistant to Superintendent Eric Prater, is also researching devices that will make it more visible to speakers that their three minutes is running out.

The district now uses an old timer, akin to a kitchen timer.

“It provides no warning, just an annoying beep at the expiration of time until the clerk clears it,” said Holmes. “We are looking into more modern options that will be visible to the chair/clerk and the speaker/audience.”

Holmes said she is also working to modify how the public comment polices are explained on meeting agendas to clarify the district’s practices.

“We do the best we can,” said Millar. “We hope for cooperation and courtesy from the public and respect for other members of the public who want to be heard. That has been the case in 99 percent of the meetings that I have been involved in over the years.”

 

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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