Mehlville board makes correct call on public comment policy

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Mehlville Board of Education members made the right call in rejecting proposed changes to the district’s public comment policy.

When Board of Education President Samantha Stormer called for a motion to approve the proposed changes to the policy at the July 20 board meeting, board member Larry Felton made the motion.

As disappointing as Felton’s motion was, fortunately it died for lack of a second.

As reported by the Call’s Gloria Lloyd, we believe board members Venki Palamand and Jamey Murphy made an excellent case why the proposed changes should be rejected.

As proposed, the policy would have restricted public speakers at board meetings to current residents, employees, parents and owners of businesses within the district.

As originally proposed, owners of district businesses would have been prohibited from addressing the board, but that was changed at Stormer’s suggestion during a June 30 Policy Committee meeting.

In June, former Board of Education President Ron Fedorchak voiced his objections to prohibiting non-residents from addressing the board.

Fedorchak told the board that he attended a Missouri School Boards’ Association workshop, where a Springfield attorney told school board members that they could not restrict comments from out-of-district residents since districts accept state and federal tax dollars.

However, at the June 30 Policy Committee meeting, Executive Director of Human Resources Mark Catalana said district officials sought their own legal advice on public comments, which concurred that the district can keep it to residents only.

But why even go there and foster the perception that you’re attempting to limit public comment? Is it really worth it from a public-relations perspective?

We’ve seen an alarming trend by some local governments to limit public comment. As a result, the message being sent is: We don’t really want to hear what you have to say.

To Mehlville’s credit, the board recently approved a calendar that adds four open-dialogue sessions for the 2016-2017 school year in which residents can have back-and-forth conversations with board members.

This is an awesome step to engage residents. We applaud the board for approving the public-dialogue sessions and rejecting the proposed public comment policy changes.