BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON - Changes to the Davis School Board's policy on public comment at board meetings were discussed at length but ultimately rejected, a decision that raised the ire of one school board member.
In a recent post on his blog, "Davis School Board Report by Peter Cannon," Cannon said his experience during his four years on the board has left him with the impression that "they really do not want the public to be able to comment in school board meetings."
Not so, said Tamara Lowe, school board president.
"We did not make a decision not to allow public comment," said Lowe. "We already had a system in place. You're perfectly welcome to make public comment if you go through the process to make it known ahead of time so people who can answer your question will be there."
The process as it now stands requires 24-hours notice for those who would like to be on the agenda.
A form listing the speaker's name, address, organization and topic must be filled out.
Board officers have the final say on what comments will be presented at the board meeting.
More often, said Lowe and board member Burke Larsen, questions can be answered individually by board members before a meeting is even held.
'I am very anxious for public input in a constructive way and we are trying to find constructive ways," said Larsen.
"I am content with the way things are," he said. "People call me and we talk and I'm able to converse with the party affected and dialogue back with the person offering a suggestion or complaining about something. I like personal dialogue with people but I dont like the situation where they come to the board meeting and we don't have the opportunity to answer their questions and dialogue with them."
Over a series of board workshops last year, board members discussed at length a new policy on a patron comment period at regularly scheduled board meetings. Whether that period should be at the beginning or end of meetings or during the discussions on agenda items, what topics are appropriate and how much time the comment period and individual comments would last, were discussed.
The 13-point policy which was ultimately drafted recommended a comment period limited to 15 minutes with three minutes per speaker at the end of business items on the agenda.
Groups addressing the board should designate a single spokesperson, and time cannot be used to air complaints on personnel issues, to defame district employees, or to address individual student education issues such as disciplinary actions.
The policy passed on first reading, but when it came up for a final vote, Cannon proposed some major changes.
Those changes included putting the comment period at the beginning of the meeting, removing the section preventing repetition on the same issue and more, according to board minutes.
After a vote to table the policy for two weeks failed, a vote on the measure itself failed.
"It is true that I did propose some amendments because with all of the revisions that had been made to the policy, I still felt it was too restrictive so I proposed some opening up of those restrictions and those were voted down," said Cannon.
"But then the final vote took place to approve it as it had been drafted," he said. "Five of them voted against the original drafted policy that we had worked on for 10 months."
According to board minutes, board member Barbara Smith said the board's current practices have been effective and that there is a better way to get community input.
Kathie Bone, another board member, also said she prefers the current methods, including scheduling additional outreach events in communities, according to minutes.
"Whether we will revisit it again or not, I don't know," said Lowe. 'We'd worked on it, but the majority of the board said, if he (Cannon) thinks this is bad policy, we won't use it."
Lowe pointed out that December's board meeting held at Davis High included a session of open discussion about the evaluation system the district is piloting.
"We had some great public comments," she said. Meetings at schools are held quarterly.
Individual problems, she said, can best be dealt with individually.
"When I get emails, it's: Here's what I can do to help you, here's what you can do, let's solve the problem," she said. "Why wait for an open board meeting for that? If you've got a problem, tell me and we'll work on a solution."
Cannon argues for the value of comments in a public setting.
"I believe that our board and our administration are very willing to hear private comments, accept phone calls and respond to emails," he said, "but there's something about public comment that is unique. It's a part of a political system, part of a public process, so I believe that public comments in the meeting itself add a degree of accountability to a board.If not done in a public meeting, those ideas never have a chance to spread to reach the public abroad," he said.