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More say, less fray on schools

Hernando County School Board members approved measures on Thursday designed to ensure kinder, gentler board meetings by establishing a monthly forum for public comment and adopting conduct guidelines for regular meetings.

In response to criticisms leveled at board Chairman Paul Clemons, who implemented a rule Feb. 4 barring public comment until the end of each board meeting, board members agreed to hold a session for public comment once a month around the county.

Clemons made the rule after a few particularly unruly meetings this year, many of which involved shouting and name-calling. Much of the fuss revolved around the issue of an appointed vs. an elected superintendent, which goes before voters in a referendum next month.

"I think we're lacking in our ability to allow public access to us," board member Nancy Gordon said during the hourlong workshop Thursday. "It doesn't necessarily have to be that way."

Gordon and her four counterparts unanimously agreed to hold one-hour sessions on the first Thursday of every month, except for the first session, which is set for March 12. Sessions will begin at 7:30 p.m., and the locations will be announced in advance as officials determine which schools are available on the meeting dates.

Agendas will be available before the forums to inform the public of what is scheduled at upcoming board meetings.

A list of guidelines regulating conduct during the meetings will be made available to those attending. Many of the guidelines _ which prohibit booing and hissing, for example _ are already covered under state law and Robert's Rules of Order, which defines parliamentary procedure.

Speakers will be limited to five minutes each, the board decided, and on issues that draw a crowd of five or more, a group spokesman must be chosen to address the board.

Board members also revamped the public speaking portion of their regular meetings. Normally conducted for 10 minutes at the end of each board meeting, the open period now will come just before board members are given their last chance to speak.

Speakers during regular meetings will be limited to three minutes each, but any number of speakers may step forward, providing the board chairman permits. They, too, will be covered by the same conduct guidelines, adopted in part from the Pinellas County School Board and state law.