Amy Roberts: No comments
If there was ever any question that Park City parents have a lot to say, last week’s move by the Park City Board of Education eliminated even the slightest bit of uncertainty.
During its May 18 meeting, the school board removed the live public comment portion, meaning those who tuned in online had no opportunity to ask questions, seek clarification or offer input. Instead of interactive dialogue, the expectation was for citizens to submit their comments via email prior to the meeting, and those comments would be included in the post-meeting minutes. Which really only works if you have a crystal ball and know exactly what will be discussed during the meeting and how it will be presented. For those without psychic powers, this “solution” was hardly acceptable. Or transparent. Or considered a good-faith effort to stay on topic.
At first, the board’s explanation seemed to indicate public comments were nixed because they took too long and there was just so much to cover. “There are just some times when we have a lot of business that we need to attend to and get done. We had an agenda that had a lot of information coming at us about master planning, about the budgets. Just to stay focused, we chose to have a business meeting and allow people to submit public comment,” the board’s president, Erin Grady, told The Park Record.
Initially, she did not commit to when live comments might return. September was floated around as a possibility. But when media started covering the story, it was quickly confirmed comments would be enabled again during the June meeting.
While the board denied that the live comments were scrapped due to some members of the public openly questioning board decisions, that seems a little disingenuous. Especially because before closing the comments, the district published guidelines that stated: “The public comment portion of the meeting should relate to district matters and agenda items versus as a platform for a personal or political statement. This is not the place to address a personnel matter or a complaint.”
Which begs the question — where exactly is the place to address concerns? That’s generally the point of public commentary.
I’m a public education superfan. My parents were teachers. My sister is the executive director of an education foundation. I donate to school fundraisers. I cheered when Betsy DeVos got booted from her post. But I’m also a taxpayer who believes democracy and decency are not advanced when elected officials silence their critics, refuse to hear other viewpoints and then attempt to package their actions as time management.
And while the school board needs to do better, so too does the general public. Over this past year in particular, many of the public comments offered during meetings have made Marjorie Taylor Greene seem rational. In fact, when learning what some parents have said regarding masks and vaccines, I assumed Ms. Greene’s children might be enrolled in the district. From lawsuits to petitions, there’s been a lot of insanity and insolence. And if you read the petition that floated around from a group of anti-mask parents, you realize just how desperately we need public education. Drunk 3-year-olds could have written a more cohesive and grammatically correct letter.
While elected officials who represent taxpayers must realize it’s their duty to consider input from all constituents, it would behoove those constituents to be respectful and reasonable in their approach.
Perhaps less nebulous guidelines are needed. Time limits or maximum word counts will demand people get to the point. Anyone who offers an insult or swears is billed $10. And repeat offenders are required to run for school board during the next election.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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