G-A School Board public comment policy discussed

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com

Members of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board recently talked with a district resident who has frequently criticized the public comment policy for board meetings.

Board members do not respond to people during the public comment period so the issue was put on the agenda for discussion on Jan. 2.

Percy Rock is critical of "agenda item VI," which is recognition of citizens.

Agenda item VI states:

"PLEASE NOTE: Citizens have the right to attend and witness board meetings, but the Sunshine Law does not grant them the right to speak. You may address the Board of School Directors at this time. Citizens are reminded that Board Procedures limits the duration of each presentation to three minutes, with the maximum of seven citizens permitted to address the board. Personnel items may not be discussed in public meeting. The Board and Administrators will not respond to public comment, at this time."

Percy Rock said when board members will not respond to his comments or questions "it's about control, pure and simple ... it says, 'I don't put value on you and don't care what you say.'"

Other boards have dialogue, "why do you fear dialogue?" Rock asked.

Tracy Baer, board president, said the board might not have all the information to answer Rock's questions at a meeting and members need time to get the correct information.

"Typically, we have taken questions from any citizen and respond with accurate information," Baer said.

"We are not a town hall," said Pat Frigden, board member, who added meetings could erupt into chaos if there was back and forth with the public. She also asked Rock to limit his comments to school issues and not national topics such as abortion.

Baer also asked Rock if he had any questions for them that night and he responded "not at the time."

He also questioned why the board only has one public comment period — at the beginning of the meeting. Other boards, he said, have more than one comment period.

The board had affirmed its public comment policy last summer. After the most recent discussion, Vice President Mike Still asked if anyone wanted to change the policy and there was no response.

Policies for public comment at local government meetings vary.

The Borough of Greencastle has one comment period, at the beginning of the meeting as "an opportunity for borough citizens to address council members on specific matters." Speakers are limited to five minutes and they may or may not get a response at that time. For example, at the Jan. 6 meeting, Harold South of Wayburn Street had a question about whether the tractors of tractor-trailers can be parked in driveways in residential neighborhoods. Lorraine Hohl, borough manager, said she needed to check the zoning ordinance before giving him information.

Antrim Township also limits speakers to five minutes during the public comment periods at the beginning and end of supervisors' meetings. Supervisors sometimes do and sometimes do not respond to comments at the meetings.

Among other Franklin County school districts, information compiled by Dr. Kendra Trail, G-A superintendent, shows the following policies:

Chambersburg: two public comment periods; three minutes; beginning of the meeting, agenda items; end of the meeting, anything

Fannett-Metal: one public comment period; three minutes; maximum 20 minutes total of public comment

Tuscarora: two public comment periods; five minutes; beginning, agenda items; end, anything

Waynesboro: two public comment periods; five minutes, beginning, agenda items; end anything

Trail provided information on 24 school districts in Franklin, Adams and York counties. Nine have one public comment period and 14 have two. Northeastern York School District has one public comment period for work sessions and two during voting meetings.