The Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education is considering changing its public comment policy to limit the first period of public comment at a school board meeting to only comments about items that are on that night’s agenda.
When interim superintendents Griff Powell and Patrick Patt took over in June the school board, acting on their suggestion, added a second public comment period at the end of the meeting.
At the board’s committee of the whole meeting on Aug. 4, Powell suggested to the board that they restrict the first period of public comment to comments pertaining to items on the agenda of that meeting. Powell also suggested that the board consider limiting public comments to three or four minutes instead of the five-minute time limit now in effect.
“At the beginning of the agenda most districts, actually every one I’ve ever worked in, said the only comments that should be made are those that are relevant to business items on the agenda,” Powell told the school board on Aug. 4. “You have business to transact; you need to get through those business items.”
Those who want to comment about something not on the agenda should wait until the end of the meeting, Powell said.
Board members Shari Klyber, Rachel Marrello, and Lynda Murphy said that they supported limiting the first period of public comment to items on the agenda.
“I kind of like the idea of business first, and it’ll get us through our meeting,” Murphy said. “And this means we’ll have to stick to the fact that we’re not going to be ending meetings at 11 p.m. You can’t expect people who have a valid thing that they want to say; you can’t expect them to sit here until 11 p.m.”
Marrello expressed some reluctance to shorten the period of time allotted to each person making a public comment.
“My only concern with the three to four minutes is that we might look bad, because even though they could speak for six to eight minutes total we’re still cutting back the amount of time they could speak,” Marrello said.
Board Vice President Mary Rose Mangia and board member Randy Brockway said that they opposed limiting the scope of the first period of public comment.
“I’m not really for any kind of restriction about what people can talk about,” Mangia said. “We’re here to listen to taxpayers and voters, and I don’t have a problem even if it’s not on the agenda. I haven’t considered it to be that big of a problem.”
Mangia did say she supported the idea of limiting the time that each speaker had to speak to three minutes.
“I think three minutes is more than ample,” Mangia said.
Powell said the reason he and Patt are suggesting the change in policy is to shorten meetings and to allow to board to get to the business matters of the meeting as quickly as possible.
“The later decisions are made, the poorer those decisions are; that’s been my experience,” Powell said. “You get to 10:30 or 11, and I see people get silly and get wacky. … You’re here to do business for the taxpayers. …Yes you do allow the public to make comments, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to do business.”