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Public should be able to speak

Surprisingly, there’s nothing that requires public bodies to allow the public to speak at a public meeting.

That means your local school board and Board of Aldermen (among others) don’t have to allow you to speak at their meetings. They must only allow you to “see and hear everything” that happens during a public meeting.

The issue came up at a recent Lincoln County School Board meeting. A member of the public tried to speak, but wasn’t allowed because she was attempting to discuss things outside of what the board’s policy allows.

The board has created policies for speaking at meetings, and the public must follow those. There’s no law or legal case precedent that requires the board to allow public speaking. So, the board’s actions Tuesday night were perfectly legal and in keeping with case law. But that doesn’t mean the board’s policies are necessarily best, it just means the policies aren’t violating any laws.

The policy specifically states that public comments are defined as an “opportunity for members of the general public to briefly express their ideas, concerns and suggestions to the school board on matters of individual or community interest.”

That sounds reasonable enough.

The policy continues: Comments are limited to three minutes per individual or group. Again, that’s perfectly reasonable.

It also states that the public comment time is not a forum for “in-depth discussion of issues with the board, nor is it a public discussion. Rather, it is a time the public may use to make the board aware of matters related to student achievement and school operations.”

What? It’s not a time for discussion of issues with the board? So when is the public supposed to bring matters of concern that fall outside the limited scope of “matters related to student achievement and school operations?”

That seems a bit overly cautious and overly protectionist. The public should be able to address the board with concerns about the school district, even if those concerns go beyond student achievement and school operations.

We encourage the school board to review its policies regarding public comments and consider allowing more public input at its meetings.