For those who find harsh time limits on public comment at public meetings offensive, don’t take it sitting down. At a meeting of the West Shore School District in York County, Pennsylvania this evening I used my public comment time to attack their three minute limit. Not being one to complain without suggesting an alternative, I offered one.
The district’s policy for anyone wishing to comment involves filling out a blue card at the beginning of the meeting. There are two comment periods, one for items on the agenda, held just prior to the business part of the meeting, where decisions are made. Last on the agenda is another comment period for topics not on the agenda. Names are called from the blue cards and citizens are given their time at the microphone.
Every time I have previously commented, on my way to the lectern, the board President, Dr Anthony Tezik, has reminded me to keep my comments to the three minute limit. Then, as I spoke, I have noticed him looking at his watch, as if enforcing the limit was more important than what I had to say. Yet an earlier comment period for student speakers has no time limit and sometimes attracts some rather long winded rants.
Tonight I brought my own timing device, a small video camera with the elapsed time on the screen. As I approached the microphone and was reminded of my limit, I announced that I had my own timer, so the enforcer would not have to stare at his watch. He said he doesn’t do that but I told him I had seen it.
I characterized the three minute limit as a slap in the face to citizens willing to take their own time to offer public comments. Recognizing the need for some reasonable limitations, I offered an alternative solution. I suggested that the comment periods each be allocated 30 minutes, with each person’s limit dependent on the number of persons requesting to comment. For one to three commenters, I suggested 10 minutes each. For 4-9, simply divide 30 minutes by the number wishing to speak. For 10 or over, the allocated 30 minute period would be extended with 3 minutes being the guaranteed minimum for each.
I reminded the board of an earlier student speaker I timed at 6 minutes 27 seconds. I also reminded them of the last meeting at which I commented, dutifully within my three minutes, on common core, only to be followed by a person concerned that the wrestling team was not winning enough matches, who was then engaged with questions from the board, the entire time consumed being about three times my three minutes. I suggested priorities.
Much to their credit, following adjournment, Superintendent, Dr Jemry Small and her assistant Dr Todd Stoltz, directed me to attend the next Policy Committee Meeting on November 14 at 4:30 pm, as the way to get the ball rolling on issues of changing meeting procedure. I’ll be at that meeting.
Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania