The Public Comment Issue at School Board Meetings Just Won’t Die

The issue of Public (aka Community Comment) at school board meetings is yet again being brought up by the Policy and Engagement Committee of the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), which examined what other government entities claim to do with public comment. The danger in examining other policies and practices is that they might be legally defective and adopting them might expose ICCSD to liability.

In many cities, much of the community might not notice if a policy or practice is legally defective. This is not likely to be the case in Iowa City. As one Iowa agency official commented in a Citizens Development Block Grant training session in 2012:

And last but not least, we did have an issue with an Iowa City project…. And for a couple regions I think we’ve got a highly educated citizenry that really questions what their city council [and you can substitute school district] is doing….”

So as a reminder, the school district should not engage in view point discrimination. If speakers are permitted to compliment employees and officials in public, they can also criticize them in public. For more discussion on this and similar issues, see https://marymurphyiowa.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/iowa-school-boards-and-community-comment/. There are also a number of articles written about free speech at A Blog About School at http://ablogaboutschool.blogspot.com/search/label/Free%20speech.

I generally admire people who are willing to announce who they are and stand up and speak in public, even when I disagree with them; however, I understand that some board members may be frustrated with frequent community commentators. Board members might consider whether there would be less community comment if the commentators received some positive action that would benefit the district. For example, frequent commentator Phil Hemmingway has reasonably suggested that a construction oversight committee be formed of knowledgeable community members. In fact, the Cedar Rapids Community School District has what appears to be a similar committee entitled Master Facility Plan Oversight Committee. The ICCSD board ought to consider adopting such a committee, especially if it were to consist of experts without any financial interest in ICCSD’s facilities’ plans (i.e., no conflicts of interest).

And along the same vein, why does not the ICCSD board also create a financial oversight committee, which might have the effect of alleviating many of the commentators’ concerns about how ICCSD manages its money and budget? Board member Fields at one time seemed interested in this.

Getting ordinary citizens more involved in the school district might neutralize some publicly expressed concerns and could help to market any upcoming bond to voters. As ICCSD comes closer to a bond election, getting more people involved in the district seems a better way of gaining allies than restricting speech.

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This entry was posted in Board, Bond, Budget, Free Speech, ICCSD. Bookmark the permalink.

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