Douglas County School District

Public comment policy changes at school board meetings

Long discussion reduces general comment, adds topic-specific comments

By Jane Reuter
Posted 3/25/14

The Douglas County Board of Education passed a resolution March 25 that sharply reduces time allotted for general public comment, but leaves discretion to the board president to allow more.

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Douglas County School District

Public comment policy changes at school board meetings

Long discussion reduces general comment, adds topic-specific comments

Posted

The Douglas County Board of Education passed a resolution March 25 that sharply reduces time allotted for general public comment, but leaves discretion to the board president to allow more.

The proposal garnered objection from some community and board members during its first reading March 18, and a "no" vote from board member Meghann Silverthorn March 25.

The new policy, intended for review at the school year's end, is described as an effort to both gain more input on specific actions and expedite the board's business. It focuses the bulk of public comment on agenda items instead of open comments - many of which are critical of the board.

Public comment will now be allowed only during a five-minute, one-minute-per-speaker period at each meeting's end for suggested future agenda topics and general comments.

Speakers have been allowed three minutes each during a 30-minute period designated for general public comment. They have not previously been allowed to comment during discussions on action items.

Board members agreed March 25 to give the school board president, Kevin Larsen, discretion to expand the new, five-minute general comment period "as circumstances require," said attorney Rob Ross.

Silverthorn voted against the policy, saying she opposes any effort to restrict public comment.

"The current proposal is more restrictive than I would like to see," Silverthorn said. "I appreciate the effort to promote efficiency. However, I do think there are instances in the past where people have brought concerns and ideas to us not necessarily listed on our agenda, but things we should know about. I appreciate that about our public.

"I'm not comfortable with limiting public comment. That's really what this comes down to."

During a lengthy board discussion, board member Judi Reynolds also expressed reservations about the change, but voted for it.

Reynolds questioned the need for a time limit.

"The times we have extended period of public comment are relatively small and far between," she said. "I'm not comfortable with setting any time (limit). I'm far more comfortable with time that allows discretion of the president."

Other board members said the change will be offset by the new monthly Board Unplugged meetings, designed as a less formal way for the board and community members to communicate. They pointed to several other avenues, including email, available for direct communication with the board.

The new policy "advances the efficiency of the people's business," board member Craig Richardson said. "So we are getting the input and the additional data and information we need to make decisions soundly, effectively and efficiently.

"There will be other opportunities for completely open-ended comment by the public."

Board member Jim Geddes said the goal is to move the meeting forward.

"The meeting has to end somewhere around the time it's supposed to end, in deference to everybody in the room," he said.

The next Board Unplugged meeting is at 6 p.m. April 1 at Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock.

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