Questions regarding board policy on public comment cards and agenda availability drew several responses from board members after an article in last week’s The Gardner News. Policy and precise answers were received May 10 only after an additional e mail was sent.
Brandon Parks, newest board member, responded with a direct website link.
The Gardner News sent the e mail at the request of district patrons who asked how they would know if they needed to address the board when the (then) posted agenda was just a basic outline.
The USD board requires all patrons wishing to address the board submit a card. Although board members did not respond to the newspaper’s original emails, the agenda appeared online over the weekend.
Rob Shippy, board vice president, responded after a third e mail was sent.
“Rhonda, this is the same format it has been in the past.  From memory at least the past 8 years, not sure why you think or believe it has changed. . . . . . If you have citizens coming to you concerned, you should redirect to the BOE and administration as they can explain and possibly find ways to accommodate. I know it would not make for news article, but it would be more productive,” wrote Shippy.
Shippy said in eight years he had never had a patron inquire about agendas or comment cards.
His first May 10 e mail did not provide information on a specific policy and did not address the availability of comment cards.
In another email, Shippy wrote: “I did not ask why they (patrons) don’t, I asked that you refer them, as you clearly do not  know the answer. . . . . in particular this process was discussed at length in the December meeting.”
In December the BOE updated the policy limiting comment time after about 60 patrons stood outside waiting to comment at the November meeting.
Brandon Parks, member, replied via e mail with the website link and commented: “This is a public document, so you are welcome to dig through it and find these answers… that’s what I did. Thanks. Also, I’ve copied Deb, Pam, and the rest of the Board so they are aware. And, if I’m mistaken on any of this, my apologies, I’m still learning all the ins and outs of being a Board Member as I’ve had to learn everything on the fly with Covid-19 preventing much in the way of training thus far.”
After the newspaper received Parks e mail, Shippy again responded and provided a link.
In addition, Parks said, “We as board members are the elected representatives of the public and are there in order to represent the interests of our constituency to the best of our ability. Public comments are allowed and intended as a way for the public to bring their concerns to the board’s attention, not to hold a community-wide discussion over agenda items. Community members are encouraged to reach out to their representative with specific questions regarding the agenda as we have sat in on committee meetings to gather more information.”
Ben Boothe, information officer, responded May 10, “In regards to the board agendas:  USD 231 has utilized BoardDocs to make agendas available to the public at midnight on the Friday before each board meeting – which takes place on Monday nights.”
In addition Boothe wrote, “In the May 5 edition of The Gardner News, you write, “At press time, the online form site was not working.” This is inaccurate, and we kindly request that you place a correction in the next edition. As you can see from your screenshot, the form states “no longer accepting responses.”  This message in no way implies the form is not working or that a link is broken. The short-term closing of the form is intentional. At noon on the day of the board meeting, this form stops accepting responses so as not to confuse patrons. We don’t want to upset someone wishing to address the board by leaving the form open when the deadline has already passed. The form is then re-enabled to accept responses the next day (typically 28-30 days before the next meeting).”
Kristen Valentine Schultz, board member, responded publicly on social media.
Schultz stated Deb Starling, board clerk, was a “consummate professional who professionally, expediently and proficiently answers all questions asked of her,” Schultz wrote. “She does, however, take direction from higher authority.”
Further, Schultz apologized for her lack of original response and wrote, “Elected officials assume both the pleasure and the responsibility of communicating with our community, and that should include our media, in my opinion. And we should take every opportunity to answer any questions asked of us or, if we don’t know or have handy the answers, follow up to make sure someone who does has provided them. I try hard to answer every email addressed to me but in the future, I will try harder.”
After about 60 patrons were asked to wait outside to address the board regarding COVID related issues, on Dec. 14, 2021, the BOE amended policy regarding public comment. Speakers are limited to five minutes unless there are more than 12 speakers, if there are 13-20 speakers, the time limit for each will be three minutes. The allotted time will be no more than 60 minutes.
In 2016, the board adopted the policy requiring patrons to submit a comment card and state their name, address, their children’s school affiliation and, if speaking for a group, the name of the group must be identified.