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School Board limits public comments at end of meeting

By Kyle Barnett -   May 24, 2012

The St. Charles Parish School Board voted last week to eliminate a rule that allowed members of the public to freely address the board at the end of each meeting.

The board passed the change unanimously and without debate.

Under the old rules, the board would ask if any community members would like to address them at the end of each meeting and anyone who wanted to speak at that time would have three minutes they could use to address any topic of their choice.

Under the new rules any community member wishing to address the board must fill out a comment card five minutes before the beginning of the meeting at the latest. In addition, comments will also be limited to agenda items.

Al Suffrin, School Board president, said the change came at the request of the board’s attorney.

"I think his notion was just to keep the meeting more in order in that when you have general comments people could talk up there about anything," Suffrin said. "You could have 100 people talking for three minutes each, not that we’ve had that, but he just thought that public comments should be aligned with agenda items."

Suffrin said if someone does happen to make comments outside of the scope of the agenda item they are speaking on that he, as president, has the ability to stop the speaker and call the meeting into order.

"There needs to be some order of business," Suffrin said. "The agenda items are put out there far enough in advance that if anyone wants to speak on any of those all they’ve got to do is submit a comment card and we’ll allow them to talk."

Community activist Kamau Odinga addressed the board before the vote took place and asked that they reconsider.

"I seem to be observing a trend that this board is moving away from transparency," Odinga said. "We have a right to participate at every level."

Suffrin said he disagrees with Odinga’s portrayal of the issue.

"I know Mr. Odinga made some comment about us not being transparent," Suffrin said. "That’s not the case. Anybody can speak on any agenda item. All that changes, if they want to comment, it needs to be to a specific agenda item."

Suffrin said that community members can always ask Superintendent Rodney Lafon or their local school board member to add an item to the agenda if they would like to speak outside of what is on the posted agenda.

"There’s not any personal vendetta against anybody for disagreeing with the board," Suffrin said. "They are certainly entitled to their comment and if it’s, as what happens on a daily basis, something that’s not appropriate to discuss during a board meeting they can reach out to the board member (individually) and discuss it with them."

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