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School Board may ease its rules

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Hernando County residents, whose right to comment during official School Board meetings has been restricted, may get to talk at unofficial School Board meetings.

The two-meeting idea is one of several proposals that will be discussed by School Board members next week.

The proposals, by board members Nancy Gordon and Diane Rowden, would temper the strict rules of conduct announced last week by School Board Chairman Paul Clemons.

Clemons opened last week's meeting by saying that the public could not comment on educational issues until the "public input" period at the end of the meeting. Another of Clemons' rules forbids School Board discussion of an issue until a motion on the issue is made and seconded.

Three Hernando residents complained Tuesday that the rules block citizens from having a voice in public deliberations; they asked the state attorney's office to determine whether Clemons' rules violate the state's open meetings law.

Gordon said she hopes that Tuesday the board will "sit down together and hash this out."

"We have to have some kind of public input" on educational issues, she said.

Her written proposal to the board is to "consider a separate public forum meeting to be held on a different evening prior to the regular School Board meeting."

"I foresee this forum to be conducted with a pre-set time limit for each citizen who desires to address the board. . . . The length of the meeting should also be determined beforehand."

Rowden proposes that the district follow the procedure used in Pinellas County. There, members of the audience may address issues as they are taken up by the board. Citizens also are allowed to address the board during a period called "presentation from the audience."

Any of those approaches might be appropriate in Hernando, Gordon said Wednesday.

"We can have a forum on a different night. We can listen to the public 30 minutes before the regular meeting. And we can listen during the meeting and still control (unruly behavior) during the meeting," she said.

"What I plan to do is to suggest that we have a workshop to discuss all these possibilities and pick and choose."

Janey Baldwin, one of the people who complained about Clemons' rules, said she understands Clemons' wish to stop unruly behavior at the meetings.

"He has the right to make rules and set a time limit (for public discussion)," she said. "Reasonable rules should be there.

"But he cannot completely cut off the public, and that's what they've effectively done.

"It is the chairman's duty to control. He has a gavel. He needs to learn to use it. But why punish the entire citizenry?"