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School district addresses decorum

By Staff | Oct 31, 2009

Decorum was a major discussion point at the Lee County School Board’s annual organizational planning meeting.
Besides addressing a myriad of other issues, the board tried to iron out some sort of agreement among board members on how to act, make comments and introduce motions.
Current policy has the school board following Robert’s Rule of Order, a widely recognized guide to managing public meetings, yet recently meetings have erupted into shouting matches, a censure motion and board discontentment.
One concern among members was the appropriate use of board member comments. While a board member is free to make comments during this period, they aren’t allowed to get other members to enter into a discussion.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik introduced a motion to allow members to request immediate discussion of a matter that needs to be handled in a short window of time.
“This is simply a check to ensure if something does come up it offers more flexibility,” said Chilmonik.
The policy in place today allows a board member to ask for a discussion if three or more other board members also agree and vote to open a conversation. Yet unpopular issues may not get the three votes necessary to open a discussion.
Vice-Chairman Steve Teuber said this rule prevents the board from hearing a topic from one individual member that the rest don’t want to address. Instead, he said the board should learn to work together by permitting discussion on certain topics.
“We need to work better as a board and work together,” said Teuber. “I don’t think one board member has the power to pull the entire board into a discussion that they don’t want to have.”
Board Member Jeanne Dozier discussed a number of policies she found from other the districts that Lee County could consider adopting, including a motion to end redundant speech.
“It’s not trying to eliminate or take away someone’s right to speak, but it makes it more efficient,” said Dozier.
She also stressed that each of the board members review information before an action meeting to ensure efficiency. This would make the votes quicker and decrease the amount of debate.
The school board has been criticized on a number of occasions for not discussing topics during action meetings, but according to Dozier, it’s because members have already reviewed the information and are ready to vote during the meeting.
“Our responsibility is to read our materials before we get to the table, there has been a lot of discussion about rubber stamps, but people don’t realize we have briefing meetings,” said Dozier, who also said she wants the board to act as one single entity, rather than as five individual board members.
Chilmonik, on the other hand, disagreed and said the public wants robust discussion.
Later this year the entire school board will attend a workshop devoted to reeducating members about Robert’s Rule of Orders. After the workshop they may choose to revisit altering the policy on board member comments if they feel a change is needed.
A new board chairman and vice-chairman was also nominated on Friday afternoon. Steve Teuber will serve as board chairman and Elinor Scricca as vice-chairman.
They also discussed the possibility of changing board schedules by splitting their meetings into one for business and one for recognitions and awards. The board typically meets twice per month and includes official business and recognitions together.
The next action meeting of the Lee County School Board will be Nov. 3 at 6 p.m.