In an age of unprecedented government overreach, the little West Bend School Board is proposing to further limit public input at public meetings.
One of the action items on the agenda is a plan to fast track a recommendation to change Policy 187 – public participation at board meetings.
According to the current policy: Participants may comment concerning an agenda item or a non-agenda item. The School Board and administration of the District recognize the value and importance of public input in Board meetings.
The proposed change in policy would strike ‘non-agenda items’ from the language.
For example: In January 2020 students from the West Bend High Schools packed the board meeting to address what they thought were cuts in funding for forensics and debate. The superintendent made clear, after nearly a dozen students spoke, that no cuts had taken place. If the new policy is passed on Monday, April 13 that would mean students would not be able to voice their concerns unless the topic is already on the agenda.
And, of course, since they are virtual meetings, there isn’t even a way for a member of the public to show up and protest verbally or with a sign. How convenient. This is an outrageous and unnecessary policy change that should be rejected.
Those Board members want to be home and snug-a-bed not later than 10PM. They’re not paid enough to listen to Deplorables, Owen. That’s not what they voluntarily joined the Board to do, you miserable rabble-rouser.
It looks like revised agendas were posted on the district’s board landing page, as well as in Board Docs, deleting the statement “The topic of the comments must pertain to an agenda item for that evening’s meeting.”
As per the Daily News this AM: “The board posted an initial agenda which stated all public participation comments must pertain to agenda items, but later took down the agenda and replaced it with one that omits the statement.”
Typically, government bodies mark revised agendas as “Revised”. That does not seem to be the case here.
It causes me to wonder if the Executive Summary attachment in Board Docs was also revised. It is not dated.
Hey JJF, I have been leaving you alone lately – do me a solid and check out the meta data to see the history of revisions. I know you are an expert in that field as it relates to Open Records laws.
Are you sure there isn’t a way for the public to join the online meeting? The language here seems to say they want a policy and procedure for you to participate. They aren’t trying to take that away. They are trying to make it happen.
I’ve worked with my county and a municipality on this very issue. They want to do it, they know they need to do it – they just need to figure out how to do it. It’s solvable but it’s a technology problem. They probably need a virtual meeting moderator, someone allowing meeting participants to speak, and muting them otherwise. Heaven knows you need to be able to mute the school kid who will find it hilarious to join the meeting and start broadcasting hilarious stuff.
And some groups may still be meeting in-person in their usual chamber, still open to the public, still a few of them in person, with most officials and the public on the virtual meeting. Now you need to have a mixed-media meeting… you still want the virtual participants to hear the audio from the room, you still want them to see the Powerpoints, you want everyone in the real-world meeting to see the Brady Bunch display… again, all this needs to be solved technologically as well as practiced so it goes smoothly.
Sad but true, public participation is not required at public meetings. They can set their rules for who can speak. Many limit the time. Many require you to sign up and identify yourself. Many say it has to be a topic on the agenda, and many will remind you that you can’t expect them to answer your questions.
For example, I know a municipality who said “no outsiders” – you need to be a resident or a business owner. So if they were annexing a nearby township’s property, those folks couldn’t speak.
I saved the PDF, opened in Acrobat Reader, right-clicked to open Properties, and I see Karen Herman made it in Word 2019 on 4/8 at 5:07 p.m.
Hey JJF, interesting – the name you came up with on the document was one of the business managers/directors in a string of 5 or so of them within a two-year period. I think she was there only a few months.
The issue is not so much the technical aspects of enabling public participation. Obviously this is a kludge fix in response to a temporary situation. They have accommodated public input by providing the opportunity to submit written comments by email that can be read within the 3 minute time limit per comment. Policy allows for up to 30 minutes of public comments (can be extended at the will of the Board). In fact, some citizens in the past have expressed the desire to submit written comments for the record instead of appearing at a meeting.
What changed is that “comments must be limited to agenda items.” That is not a technical issue – 30 minutes of comments related to agenda items versus comments about non agenda items (or a mix thereof) makes no difference from a technical aspect. And policy does allow for items that are related to the agenda be given priority.
You are correct that Boards can opt to not have any public participation opportunities. They can also opt to adopt a policy that mandates only agenda item comments too.
But what we have here is, under the shade cast by the COVID situation, a policy change is being put through.
About 5 years ago a very vocal local activist group was formed. It should be noted that every current board member has been endorsed by this group, and their campaigns received a lot of social media support. Five years ago it was felt that the administration and certain Board members were stifling speech. One of the first coalition members put forth a much broader public participation policy. Changed time from 2 minutes to 3. Added the “other items.” In the past, only “electors of the district” could speak. Now it is “qualified participants include residents of the District, employees of
the District and parents of children enrolled in the District” regardless of whether or not they live in the district.
The Board and admin got sandbagged by the appearance of a contingent of students & club advisors complaining about debate club funding. The aforementioned group applauded what these students did.
At the time, a former Board member told me that those policy changes could come back to bite the district in the butt. Perhaps it was a bad policy change to make. If changes are necessary, fine, but change it for the right reasons, not use the current crisis to make such a change.
Personally, I find that there are many other channels to make one’s public comments available to a much wider audience. There are letters to the editor (“old school”), blogs like this, and social media venues.
Yes, the name in Word may have been set on that computer at some point in the past, and subsequent users may not have ever noticed that.
Well, now there have been revisions to the revisions to the policy and at the moment “matters not on the agenda” is not being struck from the policy to be adopted.
There are two channels of communication via Board Docs. One is open to the public, the other requires authentication to access a different level of information (i.e, Board members).
Hope the Board understands those distinctions before they accuse community stakeholders of misinterpreting information or insinuate that bloggers are misinforming the public.