WHAT’S THE POINT OF PUBLIC MEETINGS IF OFFICIALS
CAN KICK THE PUBLIC OUT ANY TIME THEY LIKE?
[Editor’s note: The Nerve has repeatedly highlighted the practice by government bodies of turning public meetings into private meetings simply by using the phrase “executive session.” Until Mr. Stogner sent us this piece, however, we had not heard of government bodies skipping the public part altogether.]
In January of this year, I attended a Fairfield County School District town hall meeting in my district, conducted by the Superintendent, J. R Green. In that meeting, Green stressed his commitment to transparency and communication with the taxpayers of Fairfield County.
So far, the Board has some work to do.
On March 17th I attended the School Board meeting. I arrived before the published start of the public meeting – 6:30 p.m. I filled out the Public Participation Blue Sheet Registration form as instructed, and gave it to the clerk before the start of the public meeting.
I was then informed that I could not speak. Why? Because the board’s “executive session” had started at 6:00 p.m. And this, I was told, was “per Robert’s Rules of Order.”
The Board of Trustees and chairman had not come into the meeting room to start the public meeting when I submitted the registration form. I was given a copy of the school district’s BEDH policy on public participating at board meetings. I read this document, and nowhere did it state that the meeting started with a non-public executive session. Nor does it say anything about signing up to speak before a meeting that isn’t even open to the public.
The reason I had come to the meeting was to speak about a new BEDG policy that seemed to constrain elected board members from including their remarks in the meeting minutes. The new policy, which forces board members to jump through needless hoops in order to add topics to the agenda or have their remarks recorded in meeting minutes, struck me as fundamentally against the spirit of free speech and the S.C. Freedom of Information Act – and I wanted to protest it.
The fact that I wasn’t allowed to speak suggests that maybe I was on to something. I wonder if other school districts are as transparent as this one? Is this why the second reading on this procedure was dropped from the meeting agenda?
Chuck Stogner lives in Ridgeway, South Carolina.