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School board looks to limit member input

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

The Lee County School Board discussed a proposal during a workshop on Friday that would limit board member comments during action meetings.

Action meetings are typically designed for the board to vote on items compiled onto its agenda, while the board’s briefing meetings are a time for new ideas to be introduced and discussed, although the board does include a time for member comments at the end of action meetings.

Because of a series of disagreements and outbursts, members discussed on Friday whether to limit the length and type of comments that a board member could make during an action meeting.

All but one member of the board would like to see comments at these meetings revolve around updates on their involvement in the community or brief statements on general issues. They are also asking for board members to adhere to a state statute in providing back-up information on a topic 48 hours before its discussion.

They also considered adding another time for public comments at the end of action meetings to give community residents time to discuss issues.

Limiting the comment policy would most profoundly effect the board’s consistently dissenting voice, Board Member Robert Chilmonik, who often is an outspoken critic on a number of issues.

“I am not going to agree to any type of muzzle or get permission from some committee or the superintendent if I have something that needs to be said,” said Chilmonik. “We are putting undue restrictions that border on censorship.”

Other members of the board explained to Chilmonik, who they say portrays himself as a “victim or martyr,” that it is important to adhere to regulations to allow for efficiency during meetings.

“Mr. Chilmonik brings things forward in a wrong venue,” said Board Member Steven Teuber. “He doesn’t know the proper way to get a proper vote.”

Teuber added that Chilmonik exhibits a condescending manner with other board members during meetings and while he doesn’t want to limit how much a board member can say, he did state that Chilmonik has wasted staff resources on his individual pursuits.

“You have brought nothing forward that has a positive result, you have done a lot of single handed inquiries and op-eds to the media,” said Teuber.

Chairman Jeanne Dozier said that the board needs to be mindful of district staff, who are already being pushed to their working limits after a series of lay-offs earlier this year.

“We have critically cut a lot of staff,” said Dozier. “I have seen a lot of things that have been requested by Mr. Chilmonik and I ask how much staff time has been used?”

Chilmonik’s response to the other board members is that he doesn’t direct staff but instead asks questions.

“It would be easy for me to just sit back and rubber stamp everything,” he said.

Board Member Elinor Scricca said she was concerned with how board members deal with the short end of a vote.

“If we have passed on it, it is over. When someone is on the short end of the vote they accept it and not comment on it,” said Scricca.

Since this summer Chilmonik has continually discussed a reallocation referendum that would transfer school district funding from its capitol account to operating.

Collier County authorized a similar referendum on Nov. 4.

The board agreed to schedule another workshop to discuss the referendum and other budget issues.

There are a number of other issues that Chilmonik continues to pioneer without support from the rest of the board. They contend that he is raising these issues at the wrong time.

“It is not restricting comments or discussions, just placing them in the right venue,” said Board Member Jane Kuckel.

During the workshop, board members also agreed that they wouldn’t accept reimbursements for travel within the county.

Earlier this year the board decided it would no longer accept these reimbursements, but their final decision on Friday was that they wouldn’t propose a change to board policy.

Instead, they agreed that they will not turn in travel reimbursements. Further, there have been no reimbursement submissions since the first decision was made months ago.

“If you say you won’t do it than don’t do it,” said Superintendent James Browder. “You are all people of integrity.”

Also, if the board policy on travel reimbursements was changed, explained Board Attorney Keith Martin, it’s unlikely that the board would be able to itemize their expenses for their annual income taxes.