Public comments should be encouraged – not discouraged.
The GE school district’s policy of requiring patrons to submit a card prior to a board meeting has a chilling effect on public comment, and there’s no good reason for it.
The current policy is a holdover from prior boards and should be revamped.
A simple sign in sheet at the onset of the meeting, a limit on comment length, and a requirement the speaker identify themselves is all that is necessary.
A strong chairman has the ability to encourage comments, decorum and proper procedure.
If the speaker(s)strays into an area that should be discussed only in executive session – for example personnel or student information – the speaker should be warned and the comment cease. We’ve seen that happen at public meetings several times, most notably at the county level.
In fact, comments at other public meetings are fairly routine and common, as is evidenced by video or by reviewing their meeting minutes. They don’t require comment cards prior to the meeting.
Those governing bodies are able to reference comments for follow up and contact. We believe GE staff are equally as professional and capable.
A review of minutes indicates no patron has submitted a comment card for the prior 12 months.
Some patrons may feel discouraged by the outdated policy; not all people have equal literacy skills, and requiring patrons to publicly state their name, address, child’s name and school affiliation into the public record can fly in the face of privacy – and possibly safety for some parents. Parents at odds with district policy may also fear retaliation against their child.
The current policy is intimidating, probably deliberately so.
It’s a holdover.
And while silence in the lack of public comments may seem golden, it can also mask distrust and breed discontent.
It’s time for the board to review the outdated, negative public comment policy and replace it.
The current board and administration have made great strides in fostering a culture of openness and transparency within the district.
Please don’t stop now.
Let us hear you – crank up the microphone volume, video the meetings and change this antiquated policy to encourage public participation.