More Openness

On March 17, I attended the Fairfield County School Board meeting, arriving prior to 6:30 (the posted start of the public meeting on the District’s Board Calendar – Meeting Schedule). I filled out the Public Participation form as instructed and gave this to the Clerk to the Board before the start of the public meeting. I was then informed that I could not speak because the executive session had already started at 6 p.m. and this was per Robert’s Rules of Order. The Board of Trustees and Chairman had not come into the meeting room to start the public meeting when I submitted the registration form. I was given a copy of School District’s Policy BEDH – Public Participation at Meetings. I read this document and nowhere did it state that the start of the meeting was defined as starting with the executive session (which is not open to the public). The policy of signing up before an executive session rather than a public meeting is not addressed in Robert’s Rules of Order nor could I find it on the District website. To be more open to the public, the time to sign up for comment should be defined in an area that is readily available and visible.

My purpose in attending this meeting was see if the below procedure was going to the second reading and to speak about the board’s efforts to put a procedure in place that appears to constrain the ability of elected board members to speak, so the above seems to fall right in line.

On Jan. 29, I attended a School District town hall meeting in my district, conducted by the Superintendent, Dr. J. R Green. In that meeting Dr. Green stressed the need and his commitment for transparency and communication with the taxpayers of Fairfield County.

Following that meeting, I attended the next school board meeting on Feb. 17, and was surprised to learn of a proposed school board BEGD policy that appeared to restrict how our elected school board representatives could add topics to the agenda and would create hoops that they would have to go through to add for-the-record comments to the meeting minutes. This and other restrictions proposed appear to fly in the face of transparency and to an ordinary man looks like an attempt to add restrictions through adding local laws on top of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

According to an article by James Denton, this did not go unnoticed by Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the S.C. Press Association, who was quoted as saying, “That is a problem when they can stifle Board members from putting things on the record that they (the majority) don’t agree with.”

The stated reason for this policy change was to address the difficulty that the school board is encountering in producing timely minutes of monthly school board meetings. These minutes are delivered for board member approval no more than two business days in advance of the next school board meeting (Friday before the following Tuesday meeting).

As a secretary for an organization where I have to produce meeting minutes, I can understand the difficulty in gathering all the information, but restricting the input from elected representatives and citizens is not the way to go if the district wants to provide transparency on its activities.

Charles Stogner

Ridgeway