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School Board rules taken to the state

When Hernando County School Board Chairman Paul Clemons initiated new conduct rules for board meetings last week, what he had in mind was quelling rowdiness by members of the audience.

What he did instead was to rile at least a few of them.

Three School Board critics on Tuesday asked the state attorney's office to examine the legality of Clemons' new rules under the state's Sunshine Law regarding government meetings.

"If you read (the explanation of the law), it says at all open meetings the public has the inalienable right to be present and heard at all deliberations," said John Tenini, leader of the trio of complainants.

"Clemons has made the decision that he doesn't even want to allow his own board to speak now," Tenini said. "As chairman, he has the right to make rules, but those rules are unreasonable."

Alongside Tenini when he lodged the complaint with the state attorney's office on Wednesday morning were government critics Janey Baldwin and Joe Peragallo.

Assistant State Attorney Rita Battista received the complaint. She said she plans to pass it along to another assistant state attorney, Jim McCune, who handles Sunshine Law complaints in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

McCune was in court Wednesday and was not available for comment.

Clemons also could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Among other things, Clemons' new rules of conduct prohibit members of the audience at School Board meetings from asking questions or making comments during most of the regular meeting time. Instead, they must wait to talk until the final 10 minutes of the meeting designated for public opinion.

The rules also prohibit School Board members from discussing a topic until a motion to discuss it has been made and seconded.

Perhaps the most controversial new conduct rule calls for an immediate adjournment of a meeting if anyone makes any attacks demeaning the character or reputation of school officials, as determined by the chairman.

"That means if I do something wrong, the whole meeting is adjourned and the whole crowd gets punished," Tenini said. "He's using the old Army game where you punish the whole barracks for one person's mistake."