Pasco board member apologizes for cutting public comment

Megan Harding says everyone who signed up should have been given time to speak.
Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding [Megan Harding for School Board 2018  campaign photo]
Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding [Megan Harding for School Board 2018 campaign photo]
Published March 8, 2019

Faced with an overflow to its overflow room Tuesday, and 75 people signed up to speak 3 minutes each, the Pasco County School Board had to make a decision.

Would it hear from everyone? Or would it hold firm to its bylaws stating its meetings would include one hour for public comment?

After some debate, including mention of a scheduled expulsion hearing that was costing a family time and money, the board voted 4-1 to stick to the hour. Speakers addressing items up for an immediate vote could go first. Anyone who didn’t make it to the microphone could send an email, make a call, or come to a future meeting.

Before the meeting ended, board member Megan Harding — who voted with the majority — was offering her apologies. She said the board should have heard from teachers who came to talk about salaries, parents who attended with concerns about their children’s schooling, and other topics they brought.

While still driving home, Harding repeated her mea culpa on her Facebook page with a 6-minute video. It was an unusual move on a board that rarely makes such statements.

“I just wanted to publicly get on here and apologize, because that wasn’t okay for us to do,” Harding said. “I believe that everybody that was there and signed up to speak to the board should have had the opportunity to speak.”

Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley, the lone vote against the time limit, said she shared the view that, as a public elected body, the board should hear from the electorate. She expected that Tuesday’s decision was for that meeting only, and that the issue would be revisited if a similar scenario arises in the future.

The situation on Tuesday was a bit different than most meetings. A group organized to pressure the board to change its policies on transgender student rights had brought several speakers, many who had repeated the same point over the past five meetings. Many came from outside Pasco County.

The board, meanwhile, had made clear it had no intention of reconsidering the policy. So it aimed to control its business meeting — the only one scheduled for March — by managing the speaker flow.

The majority did not suggest how it would handle public comment in future meetings. It did not ask for a change to current policy or bylaws.