Words Matter

At the board meeting this week I questioned a practice by our board president that has become common place. Let’s start with a little history.

After a member of the public addresses the board, the board members will often tell the speaker that they are unable to respond to their questions or claims. Here they are following the Brown act and their own policy.
Over the past couple years, the board members continue to refuse to answer direct questions but they began using “clarifying questions” to enable members of the cabinet or the superintendent to respond to something a board member finds objectionable.

Our current board president has taken this to a new level. She will ask a clarifying question of a cabinet member and the cabinet member will use this opportunity to present a prepared report, often with visual aids, to counter what the speaker, who is unable to respond, has said. This has become a regular practice.

This week after a few members of the public questioned the board about their process of pushing through the Superintendent’s Successor Agreement (his contract extension and raise), Mrs. Lara asked Mrs. Kakish to respond. After she began her prepared report, I objected and explained that since this item was not on the agenda it was a violation of the Brown Act for the administration to comment. The quick thinking Mrs. Kakish told her assistant to quickly fill out a form that would allow her to speak to the board on an item not on the agenda. Other parents upset by this development began to submit their own forms.

We have always been instructed before meeting that if we want to speak on a topic we have to submit a form before the meeting. Also, I believe this point in the agenda is for the public to comment, not for the administration to respond.
When it came time for Mrs. Lara to ask this administration employee to address the board, I again asked for a point of order. I told her we have been instructed the form is supposed to be submitted before the meeting starts. Mrs. Lara then countered by saying others had submitted forms and she would have to deny them the opportunity to speak if her administration employee was not allowed to speak. I told her that would be the best decision. This ended the “public” comment portion.

Knowing how this administration likes to rewrite the rules on the fly, I decided to take a look at their own explanation of the public comment portion and how it has evolved over the years. I started with the first meeting I attended, August 8, 2007. Then I looked at last month’s meeting and then last week’s meeting. I found some interesting changes. I 've provided copies of the statements below.

From 2007 to last month, the administration has added:

Unless the item has been placed on the agenda in accordance with the Brown Act, there shall be no action taken. The Board members may acknowledge receipt of the information, or refer the matter to staff with no direction as to action or priority.

To Replace:
The Board of Trustees is prohibited from discussing or acting upon matters not on the agenda.

For this week’s meeting they added:

Testimony is not protected from damage claims for libel. Public charges or allegations may result in legal action being brought by those individuals.

Words matter. I think this evolution of their statement show us this administration is interested in limiting our rights to free speech. If they hear something they don’t like they want the ability to ignore valid questions from the public and respond unchallenged. The make up the rules as they go along.

I think it will be very interesting to see the next meeting’s description , probably should now begin to call it a “disclaimer”. Look for changes that will enable the administration to use “OUR” public comment portion to maintain their control. Look for a change that will allow speakers to request to speak anytime through out the meeting. This change would result in interesting but very long meetings. Also, look for the administration to expand the five minutes the “Board President reserves the right to limit” speakers to cover all comments through out the meeting. If this happens, I am sure the public will be the only ones to be limited.