RIP citizen comments- victim of COVID or just too damn inconvenient?

Ohio has “Sunshine Laws” that are supposed to help provide transparency in government. Yet, for those of us who try to collaborate or suggest ideas to elected leaders, the place to do it was during “citizen comments” during public meetings. While the sunshine laws are toothless in Ohio- and force citizens to expend copious effort in order to gain access to documents and enforce open meetings, the whole subject of public input is left up to individual governmental bodies to decide upon their process and procedures.

With meetings moving online, a lot of things changed. Audiences got bigger- or at least were individually trackable. Many governmental bodies made all kinds of accessibility mistakes- especially when using Facebook as their streaming platform instead of Youtube. The difference being that Facebook requires membership- and Youtube is open to all. And, of course, muting voices was as easy as hitting a button- cutting off anyone they didn’t like. Huber Heights, Centerville- both got chastised for bad behavior- not allowing citizen comments on some of their craziness.

But, as always, nothing tops Dayton Public Schools for arrogance or ignorance. And for this recap, I turn to former School Board member Mario who attends almost every meeting and shares her expert insight. If this doesn’t make you want to remove every single school board member (which you can’t do anyway in Ohio) I don’t know what will.

I went to the latest Policy Committee meeting. Members in attendance were Jocelyn Spencer Rhynard, chair, Superintendent Lolli, Treasurer Abraha, Bill Harris, Will Smith, Sheila Burton, Associate. Superintendent Student Services, David Romick, President of the Dayton Teachers Association and a gentleman I didn’t recognize but by inference I assume was with the Treasurer’s office or Operations. The Superintendent, Treasurer and David Romick are not voting members.
My particular interest was in the discussion on Public Participation policy change recommendations. Apparently there has been a push from Board President Mohammad al-Hamdani to restrict public opportunity for comment. It was clear Monday that an additional strong push has been coming from the Superintendent and has convinced at least two of the Board members on the committee. To my very pleasant surprise, Jocelyn was pretty vehement in her opposition to several of the new changes, but in the end the committee forced a vote to accept the policy as written. Jocelyn was a “no” vote, everyone else was a “yes”.
The argument seems to boil down to making it very clear to the community who is in charge. (Hint – it is not the community.)
A new clause restricts any DPS employee comments to employees who are residents within DPS district boundaries. The Superintendent was very clear that she thought employees who brought complaints to the board were biting the hand that feeds them. Her expression was “bad form.” Disgruntled or concerned employees should go through a chain of command including their union. It was pointed out that if union leadership did not see a problem or did not want to come down to a board meeting with membership concerns the only recourse may be to address the board, which will now be restricted.
The second new clause limits comments to residents within the school district boundaries, those non-residents who have students in the district (think Stivers), and those non-residents who own a business within the district boundaries. As near as I can figure, the experience that triggered this was one virtual meeting where 90 people (I have not verified this number) emailed the board about something going on at Stivers.
Will Smith was a disappointment. He consistently strikes me as someone who is interested in the people whom DPS affects. He is a strong advocate for special education students and has a laser focus on the issue of equity in the District. Early in the discussion he made a comparison to City Commission meetings where a large number of people not city residents came and spoke on the sale of prairie land. The land was part of Dayton via the airport, but not within the City limits and residents of surrounding communities had a vested interest in the decision. He offered as an equivalent example if theoretically something happened at Thurgood or Meadowdale that residents from neighboring jurisdictions may also have a vested interest because of their proximity to the schools.
By the end of the meeting he had done a complete 180, coming down on the side of limiting remarks to those people who can vote for the Board and who pay taxes to the school district. Period. Non-residents who came to speak were primarily from the suburbs anyway and never talked about the good things in DPS, only issues.
Bill Harris’s main objection to having non-taxpayers addressing the Board was that it took up too much time and he was “a time guy” not interested in prolonging a public meeting.
Dr. Burton’s contribution was a statement that if they don’t vote for you, they shouldn’t have a say in what you do.
It was mentioned several times that those outside the district, employees as well as others, do have recourse to share their concerns via emails to individual board members or to the Superintendent.
Interesting point. My cynical self feels that one-on-one emails have little impact. But I could be wrong. Does anyone have experience in reaching out like this and was it satisfactory? Comment here or message me. Messages will be kept confidential.
The policy did not make it to the Board agenda for first reading on Tuesday. Originally I was relieved because I thought it would buy some time – first reading in May for a vote in June. Then I remembered several occasions (crowdfunding comes to mind) when policies were put on for First and Second reading on the same day for approval. How ironic if that happened here. Why allow for public comment on a policy that limits public comment?
The whole experience left me frustrated and angry. I go back to my original question on major issues – What is the problem you are trying to solve? Well, the problem here is “How can we stop them from making us look bad.” Wow.
Committee to Elect Ann Marie “Mario”

Apr 25, 2021, 12:01 PM

Now, the fact that Jocelyn Rhynard was against this, doesn’t let her off the hook. She hired Libby Lolli- and gave her the contract raise and extension. You reap what you sow. She’s gone along with these other fools, rarely casting a dissenting vote- or challenging anyone. If you need proof that her IQ is just as low as Rev Harris- “The time guy” you need to watch the video where she voted to spend a half a million bucks with the University of Virginia based on a presentation containing placeholder text. At this point- she’s the only one of her class of dunces who will run again (Al-Hamdani, Harris and Wick-Gagnet are supposedly done). There will be four seats available this fall- and hopefully, some competent folks will run this time- since Will Smith and Dion Sampson have turned into huge disappointments and mystery member- Dr. Gabriella Picket has been nearly silent. Hopefully, four new board members will be smart enough to quickly hire a competent replacement for Lolli, who will quickly have Burton heading for retirement as well.
I wanted to write a post about Lolli hiring yet another consultant (after she cancelled the UVA one with the incompetent presentation 2/3rd’s of the way through the contract) on a pay-for-performance contract. What’s good enough for her contractors- should be good enough for Lolli. With her current performance, she’d owe the district money by all measurable standards, but to me, the turnover numbers are the most indicative of incompetence.

How public bodies SHOULD run public participation/comments

This is something I’ve been to court over- and even been arrested. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time- and if I was the Imperial Ruler of Public Meetings I would mandate these processes:
All agendas must be fully published at least a week before a public meeting. This includes access to supporting documents including contracts, bid scoring rubrics, competing bids, presentations etc.
Citizens must register to speak on these items, and be allowed to speak after the motion has been made and seconded, during discussion.
It is at this point, that if a citizen asks a question, and it can’t be responded to by the Superintendent/Manager/Contract administrator (elected boards vote on the response) the item must be held and an adequate response issued with the next agenda and the item may be voted on again.
For general public comment, you may register at any point during the meeting before the close of public comments. You don’t have to specify in advance what you want to say. A citizen is given 3 minutes, with extensions or cut-off only by a majority vote of the board. A response must be either made at that time, or, a promise by the Superintendent/Manager of when a response will be supplied to the citizen- and will be copied to the board. Before citizen comments of the next meeting, all questions that have responses will be read- along with the response, and any still pending- will also be read- and a new deadline for response will be set.
There can be no litmus test of residency, voter registration, citizenship or subject matter that restricts the speech of the citizens as long as their topic is relevant and contained within the three minutes.
One of the evaluations of a city manager or superintendent in their performance review should be of their skills at answering and resolving as many of these citizen comments as possible.
When it comes to zoom meetings, I’ve seen some of the most horrendous behavior of a public meeting ever- as practiced by the Montgomery County Democratic Party. Votes by affirmation without any acknowledgement of elected precinct captains objections, no list of attendees, no actual counts of votes that can be witnessed. As a voting platform, zoom offers tools- but the organizations actually have to use them to run legit meetings.
But, of course, legitimate public meetings are no longer the objective
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