BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON – On several occasions in recent years, parents have arrived at meetings of the Davis School Board to air concerns, only to be told public comment is not allowed.
That may soon change, as board members are in discussions over when and how to include public comment in their twice-monthly meetings.
Already, input from the public is invited during public hearings over the budget and tax increases. The board often opens meetings for testimony during discussions on boundaries or school names as well.
In general, time for public comment is not on the agenda.
The controversy over the placement of a children’s book about a family with two mothers, and the debate over the district’s new random drug testing policy drew concerned citizens looking for a chance to share their opinions with the board.
They also brought television cameras.
That is one of the reasons Burke Larsen, a board member, opposes public comment at general board meetings.
“It is a degradation of the executive nature of the school board,” said Larsen. “I believe in constructive communication ... but this is a step in the wrong direction. This is a showcase and theater.”
Patrons with concerns can call board members, who will listen to their concerns and refer them to district staff, who will then “invoke the expertise to solve the problem,” said Larsen.
Peter Cannon, also a board member, offered a contrasting opinion, calling public comment before governing bodies “a thing of beauty.”
He described how public comment is taken Р and controlled Р before legislative committees.
“The purpose of input at a board meeting is to inform us,” he said. “The purpose is to allow the public to give us their opinions on subjects that are appropriate.”
To support his belief in the importance of public comment, Cannon voted against the district’s budget because a public hearing wasn’t held earlier in the process.
Board members, excepting Larsen, expressed support for a public comment portion of each meeting, but debated the best format for it.
Some said public comment would be best at the beginning of meetings, but others preferred it during discussion on agenda items, and others preferred it at the end of meetings. Consensus eventually developed for public comments at the end of meetings.
Other issues, such as length of public comment and the time period allowed in each meeting, will be discussed in future board workshops before a formal policy is adopted.
“We need to test the waters first,” said Barbara Smith, a board member, recommending that the board sees what works over four or six months.
“It will give us a little more of the pulse of the community,” she said. “If there are general philosophical things we need to hear, this may be an opportunity for us to find out.”