Some people at School Board meetings need to focus; others need to open up

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Probably the last we've seen of this

Quincy School Board meetings may eventually take place in Blue Devil Gym or Flinn Stadium if things keep going in the direction they have for the last few months.

If they’re at Blue Devil Gym, at least a portable clock won’t be needed.

QPS officials brought a clock to Wednesday’s meeting similar to one used during sporting events. The idea was to ensure speakers stayed within a five-minute time limit, and after the first speaker’s time elapsed, the horn sounded.

It ain’t Dick Wentura’s VW horn, that’s for sure.

The time limit was waived after that, and the horn was no longer used. 

The meeting shot clock will go down in history with Melvin “Bud” Niekamp and his giant hammer he used as a gavel during his unforgettable first meeting as president of the Quincy School Board in 2009. I don’t have an old photo of that moment, so this must do:

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios

But seriously, folks. Liberty and freedom are wonderful things, but the need for 15-minute filibusters deviating from the topic aren’t necessary. If they make you feel better, great, but so does a cold beer on a hot day.

Gas chambers aren’t relevant to any discussion on school masks. Sorry. When you bring up analogies to Nazi Germany, you have lost me (and most people, honestly).

Masks should be optional with parents. Kids should not face repercussions for not wearing masks in schools. There may need to be some sort of division on where kids sit in a classroom, depending on their mask status. Don’t call it out. Don’t recognize it. Just do a separation that the teacher tracks. No labels, no wristbands.

(I heard the wristband idea floated around. Brand a kid not wearing a mask with a Scarlet Letter — or in this case, a Scarlet Wristband? A worse idea than the shot clock buzzer. Timer? Fine. Siren? Not so much).

We heard plenty of public comment at Quincy’s special meeting, but we heard no interaction among the seven School Board members. The Board vote was 5-2 with ZERO public debate (although one Board member pondered her decision for a few seconds before voting with the majority). This sort of thing does not foster trust. It looks like the polling was done ahead of time.

More than 80 percent of the public speakers opposed the decision. Regardless of how many people glad-handed Board members or administrators and said “well done” before or after the meeting, QSD 172 and its Board need to recognize their public roles. They are not a private club. This sort of behavior invites Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Citizens Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, Ill., has a very thorough guide on public comments at open meetings in Illinois, discussing how both sides should function. Some highlights:

  • At an open government meeting, the public body will have a designated time(s) for the public to speak directly to the government body on the agenda. Members of the public should not yell out or interrupt the meeting from their seats (a possible consequence includes removal from the meeting).
    Bob Says: It’s not a ball game, despite the presence of a shot clock. Hold your applause or boos until the speaker is finished.
  • Comments offered in critique of the public body or in broaching unpopular subjects contribute to the public debate. This means that a public body may not pre-empt your speech by forbidding you from making “critical” or “personal” comments, or place other content-based restrictions on your comments. While speakers must guard against defamation, they may certainly offer biting critiques of elected officials.
    Bob Says: You folks up front…sit there and take it. It’s what you signed up for.
  • First  Amendment freedoms are violated when a public body doesn’t allow each person the same opportunity as others to speak during a public comment period. When a public body attempts to restrict “repetitive comments” it deprives a show of strength in numbers and speech encompasses more than the words used; it includes mannerisms and individual styles of delivery.
    Bob Says: See previous comment.
  • Many public bodies will have a timer that will give a warning for the final 15 seconds and then buzz at the end of the public comment time period.
    Bob Says: Just don’t make the horn sound like the end of a Blackhawks game at the United Center.

J. Robert Gough is the Publisher and General Manager of Muddy River News.

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