BCS board approves change to public comment policy

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The Blair Community Schools Board of Education approved on first notification a change to its policy regarding public participation at board meetings during its regular meeting Monday at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center.

The board voted 7-1 with board member Bob Schoby voting no. Board member Denise Cada was absent.

The change to the policy would set public participation at 30 minutes in total and five minutes per person. However, the board would have the discretion to extend or limit the specific time.

Board member Deb Parks said the policy committee reviewed policies from other school boards before settling on the 30-minute limit.

“This was just the easiest,” she said. “We can still make it longer if want or we can make it shorter.”

Schoby said he didn't see a need to change the policy.

“I get it. Board meetings run long,” he said. “It's their right to be here, it's their right to talk. Whether I like what they're saying or not, they should get five minutes. If it's 12 people, it's an hour. We very seldom have more than that.”

The board has seen an uptick in recent public comments at its meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the district's COVID-19 plan.

During previous meetings where hot-button issues like the closures of schools or reduction in staff, the district has held longer periods for public comment.

“It depends on the situation,” board president Kari Loseke said. “I don't know how you set policy to follow every situation.”

The change in policy, Loseke said, would offer more transparency to the public.

“The timeframe is the biggest thing. I just wanted to reword it a little bit differently so it made it more transparent to the public that limits it to five minutes, but when there are huge crowds, we might want to limit it more,” she said. “With the exception of those special meetings that we have and we knew the whole point of the meeting was.”

The district's attorney, Ed Talbot, said the policy still allows the board the discretion to change the length of time for public comment.

“If we know we've got an issue and we need to have more public input — one like the bond where you have a special meeting to do that — here you would be able to say we know this is a really big issue that the public is concerned about and we're going to allow X amount of time. That's fine,” he said. “The idea of having a set time is to try to allow you to conduct your business appropriately and not have to have long meetings if you don't need to. But then if you've got a certain item, you can certainly address that.”

The board will consider the policy for final approval at its Dec. 13 meeting.

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