Jasper Co. (ECWd) -
The Jasper County School District has responded to our request for review of the public comment policy the districted adopted.
While I was specific as to part of the policy I wanted to be reviewed, the school attorney took us to Hollywood to build his case that the policy was just fine.
"The Oscars, for example, limit comments after awards to 45 seconds and candidates running for public office are often asked to respond in one minute or less at public debates."
Yes, this attorney spent taxpayer dollars and created a 6-page document of misleading representations to persuade the Attorney General Public Access office that our request for review was basically unfounded.
Concerns I raised with the Attorney General PAC office:
- The 2-minute restriction states that it applies “ordinarily”. There is no definition as to what is “ordinary” public comment.
- “unusual circumstances” may allow a person to speak for more than 2 minutes. There is no definition as to what qualifies as an unusual circumstance.
- The one-week advance “notice” “may” allow a person to speak for 5 minutes. There is no guarantee the person will be given 5 minutes and people attending for the first time would not know this was an option to get more time to speak.
- The Board President can decide to shorten public comment to conserve time and give maximum number of individuals an opportunity to speak.
Of interest in the attorney's letter is the fact he never addressed the very issues I raised. Instead he made some very disturbing representations. Disturbing to the point I would urge the School Board to refuse to pay any bill presented by this attorney as it is clear the majority of his work was more about billable hours than it was addressing the actual points raised.
As it relates to his invoking the Oscars, are we now going to apply TV time and political debates, where such rules have no bearing on people’s rights, to rules where people have rights? Just because the attorney says those examples are reasonable, many would say they are not. How many speakers at the Oscars went over 45 seconds? Did they do so because they felt 45 seconds was not enough time? How many politicians speak longer than they are asked? All of them? Does that mean the time limit was not reasonable?
“There simply is no practical reason or legal authority in support of a two -minute restriction being unreasonable.”
Correct - And there is no practical reason or legal authority in support of a two-minute restriction being reasonable!
Many of the claims made by this attorney insinuate that since the courts were silent on the time restraints it somehow justifies a two-minute time restriction. The problem with the attorney's representation is that not a single case he cited was a court case about time restrictions for public comment. They were silent because that was not the issue before them.
Every time we start to expose bad actors on a public board, the first attempt is to restrict the public's right to speak as they don’t like being exposed. Having only attended two meetings, this board is not considering a policy revision to further restricts the peoples right to speak.
“With that said, the District is currently reviewing its policy and is considering establishing a two-minute time limit uniformly and eliminating the option to provide advance notice for five minutes of public comment.”
We are confident the Attorney General PAC will see through the games being played and issue an appropriate opinion that enhances the public's rights to speak during a public meeting, not restrict it.
You can download the Schools response to the PAC at this link or view below.