Here’s the latest on Ben Greene, the New Port Richey man who was stirring things up at the Hillsborough County School Board meetings - until he was barred from the premises on March 12.
The Tampa Police Department confirms it issued a trespassing notice to Greene, 29, based on comments he made previously. According to the police report, district officers accused Greene of “causing disruptions at School Board meetings.” They told him to stay away for 365 days, and he accepted the notice “without incident.” The district’s chief of security, former Tampa Police captain John Newman, said later that Greene was making board members uncomfortable with remarks that became overly personal at the Feb. 19 meeting, including calling the board members “blondes.” Newman said that if Greene tones down the attacks, he will be allowed to return. And he said his officers acted in the interest of maintaining safety.
Greene’s ouster followed the board’s January decision to stop including public comments in the meeting videos it posts on its website. The board also moved much of its business from the afternoon meetings, which can be seen on the website or on cable television; to 10 a.m. workshops. Those gatherings are held in a second floor conference room and neither webcast, nor telecast as part of a public access package that costs taxpayers $18,000 a month.
Greene spoke on the first day that this new meeting format took effect. In case you are wondering what all the fuss was about, here is a transcript:
GREENE: After speaking at the last few meetings, I and others have noticed you have decided to make a very fundamental change. Instead of 3 o'clock, meetings are now listed to start at 4 o'clock.
But you’ve really got to read the fine print to know that public comments start at 3:30. You’re not even broadcasting them any more. What you’ve done, and you know what you did. You’ve separated the free speech aspect of the meeting to censor and stifle creative criticism. And the way you pushed this, oh you’ve also, you’ve reduced talk time by almost 50 percent.
And when you were pushing this on people, the phrase you used was, “we’re going to change the format to better serve the community.” But you never explained how this would better serve the community and you use that phrase a lot. “To better serve the community, we’re going to do x, y and z.” But then people in the community start saying, “well, hold on. None of these things actually benefit us. They don’t. They hurt us. Why are you really doing this?” And you don’t answer those questions.
And even worse, during meetings, especially when teachers are commenting, some of you will just get up and you’ll walk off. Its’ so rude and disrespectful. And it’s weird. Like, when there’s two of you going off in the back room, nobody knows what you’re doing back there. You’re taking so much time that you couldn’t just be going to the bathroom. You’re doing something. I think you’re eating or making backroom deals or something. I don’t know, but most of you are here. Ms. Hamburger. Ms. Valdes, I think, yea. No, you replaced Ms. Valdes. One of you is new. One of the three blondes, I don’t know. I don’t know who you are. I think you’re with those guys, right? You look like bureaucrats.
I know you, Mr. Cona. I put in a good word for you to some voters who were saying that your background is just a huge conflict of interest, a laughable conflict of interest. I said no, no, he's a good guy. He's not going to do that thing that you think he's going to. But flash forward and look what's happened. Look what you've done.
CHAIRWOMAN TAMARA SHAMBURGER: Mr. Green...
GREENE: You changed things.
SHAMBURGER: Mr. Greene. let me remind you that you are not to...
GREENE: As part of the format of this meeting, you don't address me at this time Ms. Hamburger...
SHAMBURGER: Mr. Greene...
GREENE: I know. I hear you loud and clear.
SHAMBURGER: I'll give you a warning Please address..
GREENE: I’m giving YOU a warning, okay? This is censorship. Lady?
(Murmuring can be heard as a security guard approaches.)
SHAMBURGER: Thank you so much.... At this time we will conclude all public comments and recess for five minutes.
Two postcripts: The cable television deal is being rebid, with a new contract expected in May.
And the Tampa Bay Times has begun live-streaming those portions of the meeting and workshop that are being omitted, on its Gradebook Facebook page.