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School Board members admit: We talk too much

Coming at the end of a day-and-a-half-long marathon School Board meeting, the topic seemed appropriate: how to cut back on the board's lengthy meetings.

Board member Patience Nave raised the issue Wednesday morning. She noted the board has always said it would follow parliamentary procedure; however, more and more lately, orderly meetings have turned into rambling discussions.

"We're getting looser and looser," Nave said.

She recently asked a conference speaker whether he had heard of an 11-hour School Board meeting. He told her he hadn't.

"I feel concerned that we've become very, very lax," Nave said.

Other board members agreed.

"No board (meeting) should go over three hours," said board member Carol Snyder. Then again, she said, open session is the only place board members can discuss issues.

With many of those discussions taking place at the board's workshops, Snyder said she wasn't sure the public felt comfortable coming to offer input at that time.

School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick noted there was no crowd of interested citizens at Wednesday's meeting, just media and a School Board candidate. He noted that the board has been flexible, allowing for the public when a crowd was present and being more formal when formality was necessary.

He also noted that it was up to Chairwoman Pat Deutschman to control the discussion.

Superintendent David Hickey also questioned why the board has carried on conversations with citizens who have addressed the board. In the past, the board listened to citizen concerns and then explained that it would not respond publicly but someone would look into the concern.

Nave said the experts she consulted backed a system where the board listens to concerns, acknowledges their importance and then directs Hickey to have the appropriate school official provide an answer to the questioner.

Hickey also suggested that meetings would be shorter if board members aired concerns with him behind closed doors, where he could have time to gather information, rather than in public at board meetings.

Nave said the real problem was board members rehashing the same ground.

"If Roberts Rules of Order can keep us from an 11-hour meeting, I'm all for it," said board member Ginger Bryant.

Deutschman was concerned about the other members bashing the longer-than-normal meetings.

"You're criticizing all of us," she said. "We don't have a lot of 11-hour meetings . . . and sometimes we don't have any control of how long they go."

She said cutting off discussions might stop a board member from expressing an opinion or reacting to someone else's thoughts.

"When do we as a group discuss? Only when we're in public," she said. "Our time together is limited, and it's precious."

She also noted that past boards have been criticized for not allowing the public access to the board.

Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she felt all board members were guilty of rambling sometimes. But "I don't want to meet just to meet," she said.

Snyder noted that the reason board members don't cut one another off is because they don't want anyone to take offense.

Fitzpatrick said any board member could ask the chairwoman to limit discussion on a topic or end a discussion.

"You ought to do it," he said to Snyder. "You're fixin' to get off the board soon, anyway." Snyder has announced she does not plan to run for re-election.

He told the board that discussion should be a reminder to say what they need to say at meetings and then move on.

After the board continued discussing the issue awhile longer, Fitzpatrick repeated that sentiment, then stopped himself saying that he could cut out an hour of meetings by not talking himself.

"When are you going to start?" Nave asked.