The consensus among the dozen or so people to whom I have spoken since Tuesday’s school board club meeting are in agreement that it was abominable. Yes, it’s true that we are all of like minds and may lack the objectivity to provide a truly impartial opinion, but it is also true that we have the benefit of context.

We’ve all seen many meetings before. Most or all of us have attended those secret special meetings that are announced at the last minute to reduce the members of the public who wish to attend and offer their thoughts during the public comments section that is required by law.

That context enables me, for one, to declare that in the many years of attending school board club meetings, last Tuesday’s was the most poorly run, poorly presented I have seen.

From the extreme rudeness of club president Vicki Snell – now common at these meetings – to two extraordinarily poor presentations by a couple of highly-paid bureaucrats, this meeting was one for the books.

Now you can talk, no you can’t. 

That Snell does not know how to run a meeting and does not know how to handle new situations was never more evident than when it was time for the public comments. Snell announced that she had 48 cards and then clumsily asked the simmering crowd about which of two options they preferred.

Bad move. Snell should have known that regardless of the final decision, there would be grumbling so it would have been better for her to have made the choice herself and suffer the inevitable consequences. That way, you’re upsetting only some of the audience. Via Snell’s clumsy handling, everyone was mad.

Experienced meeting facilitators know this, but apparently Snell has learned little in the six years she has been a member of the club.

Instead…

This is not the first time that there have been a lot of people wanting to give the club the what for. And after years of this, you’d think that at least one of the bureaucrats – the “experts” as the club members call them – would have figured out a solution.

But they haven’t. The reason why in a few paragraphs…

Here’s what they should do: The club allows a measly 20 minutes for public comments and each person gets to speak for three minutes. Not everyone speaks for three minutes but most are near the mark. That means that in a regular setting, about six or seven people get to talk.

When there are more people, the club has changed the rules on the spot to reducing the three minutes to two. That’s a setback for those people who have timed their remarks and have to do some quick editing before they speak, which usually results in a less than effective presentation of their thoughts.

What the board needs is a firm, written set of standards for public comments. Here is an example – the numbers are not necessarily recommendations, they’re just part of a template that can be modified…

If there are 6 or 7 cards presented for speaking requests, nothing changes.

If there are 10 – 15 cards, the 20 minute limit is extended to, say, thirty minutes, and everyone gets two minutes. With 15 – 25 cards, two minutes and the total time allowed is extended to 45 minutes.

With 25 or more, it’s two minutes per speaker and 60 minutes allowed. Or 75. Or 90. Whatever. The point is not the number of cards or the time limits, the point is to have a firm, fixed set of rules so that we can avoid Snell’s tirades and whims and those of subsequent presidents.

The board should inform the public as to what they can and cannot address. This came up when former Trustee Wendy Leece submitted five cards for different items on the agenda and was told wrongly that she could not speak on some of them.

Set the rules. Put them in writing. Post them in appropriate places. Announce them at the start of the meeting. And stick to them.

Here’s the “why” – actually the “why not”… None of these logical moves will take place as long as the current board is in place. That’s because – get ready – they like it just the way it is.

What is obviously confusing and capricious to you and me is actually a controlling mechanism by the board. When they are confronted by a hostile crowd – as they were on Tuesday – the current arbitrary determination of a speaker’s rights makes it easy to limit the criticism.

The club also not set speaker rules in stone because they public comments section of the meeting is a nuisance and viewed merely as something they are required by law to do. They do not care what the public has to say and you can go back through the six years of this blog to find countless proof points of that.

That is unless you are running for re-election as are club members Karen Yelsey and Charlene Metoyer. Then, suddenly, your comments are really important to them.

Steve Smith
Dazed and confused taxpayer

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