Is an hour 'adequate' for the public to make its case in Pasco school rezoning?
Aiming to manage three public hearings on school attendance zones — two of which have been contentious so far — the Pasco County School Board has set aside one hour for each when it meets Tuesday.
At least one family that stands to be affected is challenging the time frame as too little. And they've turned to a section in state law that no one has used before to challenge a Pasco school boundary hearing.
Parents James Stanley and Cecelia Loyola sent a one-page letter to School Board members over the weekend, in which they contend the Dec. 20 public hearing does not comply with the section of Florida statutes relating to rule making.
"To the extent that the School Board is limiting each affected person to 1 or 3 minutes of speaking time, or all affected persons to a total of one hour of speaking time, this process is inadequate to comply with the requirement in Section 120.54(3)(c), Florida Statutes, that the public hearing 'give affected persons an opportunity to present evidence and arument on all issues under consideration,'" the family wrote.
They argue that the process does not give their family or their neighbors proper opportunity to protect their "substantial interests" in the rezoning. "Substantial interest" is a term that appears in law, but is not defined.
They then request a public workshop on the rezoning, as allowed in F.S. 120.54(2)(c).
School Board chairman Allen Altman said he conferred with district legal counsel before setting the time frame for the public hearings. He relied on a different state law, which applies to board and commission public meetings.
Florida Statutes 286.0114 state:
Members of the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board or commission. The opportunity to be heard need not occur at the same meeting at which the board or commission takes official action on the proposition if the opportunity occurs at a meeting that is during the decisionmaking process and is within reasonable proximity in time before the meeting at which the board or commission takes the official action. This section does not prohibit a board or commission from maintaining orderly conduct or proper decorum in a public meeting. The opportunity to be heard is subject to rules or policies adopted by the board or commission, as provided in subsection (4).
That subsection says:
Rules or policies of a board or commission which govern the opportunity to be heard are limited to those that:
(a) Provide guidelines regarding the amount of time an individual has to address the board or commission;
(b) Prescribe procedures for allowing representatives of groups or factions on a proposition to address the board or commission, rather than all members of such groups or factions, at meetings in which a large number of individuals wish to be heard;
(c) Prescribe procedures or forms for an individual to use in order to inform the board or commission of a desire to be heard; to indicate his or her support, opposition, or neutrality on a proposition; and to indicate his or her designation of a representative to speak for him or her or his or her group on a proposition if he or she so chooses; or
(d) Designate a specified period of time for public comment.
This disagreement could lead to an interesting conversation at the board meeting, which already is expected to run longer than usual.