Along with everything else these COVID-colored days, Fort Wayne Community Schools board meetings continue to be far from ordinary, with social distancing and masked participants. Board member Tom Smith raised the possibility this week of making another change: allowing public comments before board meetings are adjourned.
“Over the past month or so, I've had a number of people email me about an issue they don't understand or would like to know more about, and that it is the board's policy of holding off public comment until after our meeting is adjourned,” Smith said Monday, noting the cable TV and online broadcasts end before those comments are heard.
“They ask me, 'Why is that?' And I tell them I really don't know – that happened before my term on the board,” Smith said. “But I think that's a really important discussion and I think this board should review that policy from time to time.”
He asked for the issue to be placed on the agenda for the next board meeting.
“A lot of people are confused and upset because they don't understand why we're doing this. And I don't either,” said Smith, who is serving his first term on the school board after 16 years on Fort Wayne City Council, where audience comments are part of the public meeting.
The board's current policy on public comments dates to 2010, when the board voted to close Elmhurst High School and meetings frequently grew heated, including one session where security was summoned.
Board members voted at the time to restrict comments until after meetings were adjourned and cameras stopped recording.
In 2011, board member Julie Hollingsworth proposed moving the comment period ahead of adjournment, but her measure failed by a 5-2 vote.
“We are happy to hear from the public,” then-board president Mark GiaQuinta said at the time. “But this is a business meeting of the board, not a public hearing. ... We are not here to provide a press conference for the Save Elmhurst group.”
Hollingsworth is now board president, however, and Steve Corona, who joined the board in 1981, is the only board member remaining who supported the policy. Could it become another change in this tumultuous year?