EDITORIAL: Let public speak freely at public meetings

2014-04-21T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Let public speak freely at public meetings nwitimes.com
April 21, 2014 12:00 am  • 

When school board members discuss policies on public comment, they often lose sight of one key fact: the public, not the board, owns the school district. 

The Valparaiso School Board is looking to revise its comment policy, limiting comments to three minutes instead of the current five and to no more than 30 minutes total.

If the board members were directly elected by the voters, rather than appointed by the Valparaiso City Council or by the Center Township Board, perhaps those board members would not be so quick to cut off public comments.

The Hanover School Board is considering a change to its own policy on public comments that would eliminate the requirement that comments be limited to subjects on the board's agenda and that anyone interested in commenting sign in prior to the meeting.

Those restrictions are for the board's convenience, not the public's, and this is the public's business. Let the public have their say.

With such a restrictive policy, the board is restricting comments from someone who might not have known what to expect at the meeting. Why make that person wait until the next board meeting to speak out?

Hanover School Board President James Sakelaris said a school board meeting is a business meeting conducted publicly, which is true, but he also said a school board meeting is not a public meeting in the way municipal meetings are.

Malarkey!

As to the suggestion that Hanover's policy on public comments be addressed in an executive session — closed to the public — that would be not only cowardly but also illegal.

There are specific circumstances under which the board may meet in private — to discuss employee issues, strategy with respect to a real estate purchase or lease, or strategy with respect to pending or threatened litigation, for example. Changing the public comment policy isn't one of those reasons spelled out in state statute.

If you don't want to listen to the public, resign from the school board.

Once more, this is the public's business, not the board's. Hear them out.

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