8/26/16

"...no right to speak..."

This latest bit of buffoonery over the Swink school board gives me flashbacks to similar buffoonery with the La Junta school board.

School boards are among the most arrogant of our elected officials. To give you some idea of the depths of that arrogance, here is a reprint of a blog post from 11.16.2010:

+++++++

At the last East Otero R-1 school board meeting, board member Debbie Hansen briefed the board on a seminar she had recently attended. The seminar, hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), covered some legal issues boards might face. Public participation was apparently among those issues, for Hansen shared with the board that she had learned that the public has no right to speak at school board meetings. The rest of the board seems to go along with the idea that the public has a right to speak only to the extent that the board grants that right.

The public has no right to address a board of elected officials at a public meeting? Our elected officials "grant" us the right to speak?

I asked the CASB legal staff about that. Here is the salient content from the CASB answer:

None of these laws [Colorado open meetings and school board specific statutes] obligate public entities to include an opportunity for public comment as part of a public meeting.

Which, of course, is true. Why would they? A citizen's right to petition for redress of grievances, which is generally why we want to comment at board meetings, is rather adequately covered in the 1st Amendment to the federal Constitution, and in Article II section 24 of the Colorado Constitution:

The people have the right ... to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, by petition or remonstrance.

 A "petition of grievance" can take many forms; it can be as simple as "Please tell me why you spent a pile of tax money" on a particular project. Given that this board has yet to see a funding proposal it doesn't like, that may be a very pertinent question.

The right of citizens to address their locally elected officials is an American tradition that arises well before our Revolution and the Constitution. How can a local board of elected officials be so arrogant as to tell citizens that they have no right to speak before them? The laws cited by CASB, the school board protective association, do not say that a citizen has no right to speak - they simply don't address the issue at all. It is the CASB legal staff who are presuming to tell us this means we have no right to speak. And while many boards may give citizens two or three minutes to speak, given the complexity of most school board matters these days, such a limit arguably amounts to constructive denial.

I suspect that should a citizen actually be denied the opportunity to speak in a reasonable and reasoned manner before a school board, the legal staff of both CASB and the board in question could find themselves gainfully employed for some time to come. If CASB and board counsel can find for denial of the right to speak in the references cited, certainly the ACLU and similar civil rights watchdogs can argue the opposite. For years, one would think. Do not our school boards have better things to do than insult the very people who elected them? And have they learned nothing from the recent election, where a thoroughly disgusted electorate gave the boot to government officials who refused to listen?

BTW ... you could consider this post to be a form of that "remonstrance" mentioned in the state Constitution.
+++++++++++