BOE, public wrangle on speaking policy

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

The Loudon County Board of Education and members of the public were at odds Jan. 10 about a policy item that allows visitors to speak on non-agenda items at workshops but not at the boards monthly business meetings.

During a workshop that took place immediately before the regular meeting, Lenoir City resident Richard Truitt asked the board whether the public would be able to speak at the end of business meetings.

"Non-agenda items you can address at the workshop; that gives you a chance to address agenda items or non-agenda items, and then on the agenda night it gives you a chance ..." Vice Chairman Leroy Tate said before being cut short.

"So the public won't be able to speak on non-agenda (items)?" Truitt said.

"Yes, you can speak," Tate said. "All we're going to act on board meeting night is items on this agenda, and once we have voted on an item on this agenda, we're not going to go back and open it back up, whether it's voted up or voted down, it's through that night. And when we get to the bottom, we're going to adjourn the meeting."

Lenoir City resident Wayne Schnell also raised a concern about the policy.

"One of the problems with the board meetings is, a good example is the last item on there, 'Other business deemed necessary by the Board or Director” we don't have any idea what those items are going to be, so how in the heck are we going to be able to talk on those particular items?" Schnell asked.

Tate said that part of the agenda was in place in the event of an immediate need in the school system or for informational purposes.

"On workshop night, you can talk about what the weather's going to be next week or you can talk about what we've got on the agenda, but when we come down to board meeting night, we're going to do business, and we're going to operate in an orderly manner on what this agenda's on," Tate said.

Board member Gary Ubben raised a concern regarding an amendment to the speaking policy that was approved last month by the policy committee.

He took contention with part of policy that reads, "All individuals and items not on the agenda must be approved by the chairman. The Board may overrule."

"I want to make sure that we are not limiting our visitors in this recognition of visitors section where they must have the approval of the chair and the topic before they have an opportunity to speak," Ubben said.

He asked whether visitors have to have "prior permission" from the chairman to speak at meetings.

"It doesn't say 'prior'," board member Kenny Ridings said.

"It happens at that point and time," Ric Best, who heads up the policy committee, said.

Ubben said he also felt the board chairman needed to have the authority to cut a public comment short if it dealt with, for example, a personnel matter or a student.

"There was an item at the commission meeting the other night that got a little out of hand, and the chair cut it off at that point," Ubben said. "I think the chair has to have that authority."

Before making the change midway through 2012, the board previously allowed the public to discuss non-agenda items at its business meeting.

Board member Scott Newman said during the regular meeting that although some public comments could get "long winded" he didn't see a problem with the previous policy.

"One of these days we'll have some parents come back in here, hopefully, and talk about the school, and maybe we'll get back on the tangent of talking about schools instead of fighting about this silly stuff that doesn't have anything to do with educating kids or building buildings," Newman said.

He made a motion to table discussion on the policy, and board member Jeremy Buckles seconded.
In other business, the board:

* Approved the second reading of a retirement incentive plan that would provide employees higher retirement benefits for retiring with 30 years experience. The incentive will be reduced by 2 percent each year a teacher delays retirement.

* Approved new mission and vision statements, as well as a five-year plan. The vision statement reads: "Loudon County students will be fully prepared to contribute to our community with an awareness of future educational opportunities and appreciation of the value of education." The mission statement is as follows: "We will graduate college and career ready students through rigorous and relevant learning opportunities."

* Set a date to hold a workshop to discuss future building projects and the general direction of the capital plan. The meeting is set for 4 p.m. Jan. 24 at the central office.