Loudon school board votes to limit comments at meetings

Hugh Willett Special to the News Sentinel

LOUDON — The Loudon County school board last week voted to limit residents’ comments to subjects on the agenda during its meetings.

The move reversed a policy that had been in place since 2008.

“I’m disappointed the public will not be able to comment on non-agenda items at future board meetings,” said board member Jeremy Buckles.

Buckles, along with board member Gary Ubben, cast the only votes against the change on Thursday. He said he was surprised that the board would reverse a policy that seemed to work well. When the board’s policy committee looked at the issue earlier this year they recommended to allow non-agenda comments at end of meetings, he said.

“I checked with policies at other school boards in this area. All of them allow comments on non-agenda items during meetings,” he said.

Although residents can still speak out about any issue during board workshops, many are not aware when the workshops meet, Buckles said. Most residents are familiar with the monthly board meetings, he said.

According to Schools Director Jason Vance, limiting public comments to agenda items will make sure that comments occur in the appropriate venue. Workshops are places for discussion. Meetings are places to make decisions, he said.

“The purpose of the rule change is not to limit public input, but to get the input at the correct time and place,” he said.

Residents still have the opportunity to request that items be placed on the agenda and the board has the right to vote to hear any person at any time during any meeting, he said.

Lenoir City resident Wayne Schnell was among several residents at the meeting who spoke out against the new policy.

“I am not sure why the board is so worried about what citizens might talk about, because that is part of their responsibility to listen to citizens’ concerns and comments.” he said.

Schnell told the board one of the reasons to bring items up at the board meeting instead of the workshop or off-site is because comments will be on the record and can be seen by anyone reading the minutes.

“There are no minutes taken at the workshops, so comments made by constituents would not be recorded,” Schnell said.

Residents might want to address items that are not on the agendas of specific committees or workshops, he said. Board members who are worried about being blindsided at meetings need not worry because new items would be brought up at the end of the meeting for information only.

“There is never any response required by a board member,” he said.