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”
How public bodies SHOULD run public participation/comments
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.