SF Unveils New Public Comment Policy
The Southern Fulton School Board met some strong opposition last Tuesday night when it unveiled a recently approved policy that will require concerned citizens to fill out a form several days prior to making public comment during meetings.
Entitled the “Southern Fulton School District Public Request to Address the Board Form,” the policy was reportedly approved by the board in June, according to Superintendent Kendra Trail. Although several board members did not recall voting on or seeing the document, board member David Smith acknowledged he understood the form in its entirety and stood by his prior vote.
“We already have a local board procedure for citizens to address the board,” board President Tim Mellott told those on hand, who included Daniel Peck, Dave Smith, Ed Yates and Glenn Ward. “ ... Basically, the form goes through several points that the meeting should consist of. It also states that ‘Any items presented to the board must have been processed by the administrative staff prior to the request to address the board at least two days before the board meeting.’”
Mellott also said he had a prior conversation with Peck and expressed to him that there are questions that arise during a meeting that put the board on the spot.
“It’s kind of hard to come up with the exact answer,” stated Mellott. “If we start using these forms in the way they are intended to be used, we can probably review your questions about your concerns, and have a more positive answer and a better communication between the board and citizens.”
The form limits speaking time to five minutes. However, any group wishing to speak before the board are entitled to a 15-minute presentation using one spokesman. The board president also reserves the authority to stop any discussion or public comment in the event a situation becomes “unruly.”
Furthermore, overall public comment at any given meeting will no longer exceed 20 minutes.
Peck said he appreciated his prior conversation with the board president, but “this little piece (of paper) here, don’t cut it for me.” Peck noted there are some questions that need thrown at the board to keep them on their toes.
“If I have a question I usually just ask it then and there. Other citizens would do the same thing. I don’t think you need to have two days on this ... . I think this is just another ploy to keep the citizens away from here,” Needmore resident Ed Yates said. A resident of the district and a former board member, Yates noted he has regularly been attending school board meetings since 1991 and has never seen this form.
Yates then said, “You should cover yourselves, clean your act up a little bit and make the people understand what you’re doing. This is just going to put you in a darker hole.”
Bus contractor Dave Smith pointed out that even though there have been contentious issues over the years, it’s always been the board’s policy to ask for citizens’ participation. “For the last eight to nine years, this (form) has never been practiced. I’ve always found it very comforting that if I did have a comment, I could make that comment when I was asked by the board president. It made me feel good. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t feel good about this.”
A 21-year-military veteran, Smith said he fought for freedoms such as freedom of speech.
“I’ve seen very few limited times where we need to go to this extreme,” Smith stated. “I see it as you’re trying to shut us up.”
“I’m not so sure you’re looking at it right. You still have your say ... . What we’re trying to say is that if we use this the right way, this can be a better avenue for the board to give you better answers for your questions and concerns,” the board president responded.
“I disagree with you 100 percent,” Yates told Mellott.
Smith then questioned if items will be “screened” in the event it’s a topic or matter the board doesn’t want to hear. Mellott reassured Smith that the board has to address each matter. “It’s not to hide anything,” Mellott concluded.
Later in the evening when the matter was revisited, board member Danny Crouse put a motion on the floor to rescind the policy. The motion would be mentioned yet again, but no action was taken.