Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shameful Behavior: The Three-Minute Rule and the Gavel of “Shhh!!!!”

The June 21st Board of Trustees meeting was an interesting, though long affair.

The meeting began on time at 7:30 with an overflow crowd of District staff and some parents attending.

The meeting began with well wishes from Jan Averill who said how glad she was to have so many attending, despite busy summer schedules.

How ironic that the District staff had closed many of the normally open rooms to keep people in the audience from getting themselves chairs to sit on: for over two and a half hours.

How ironic, that though an overflow crowd was expected, no attempt was made to provide a sound system to aid the hearing of those in the room, in the hallways, or in the lobby. Not even the microphone on the speaker’s platform was operational, nor a microphone for the Board President. How ironic? How shameful! (Perhaps it borders on intentional and sinister.)

Perhaps you think I’m overreacting? Well, I was informed that a district custodian was stationed in the main hallway with directions from the district, not to allow chairs to be brought out for those attending to use. How welcoming? (Or not.) How shameful. (How hypocritical! “Glad to see you… please remain standing…”)

Probably 95% or more of the audience was there to speak to Item 9 on the Agenda: Other Topics. (One set of parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bakis did question why the district was starting school so early this year, and why the District was making Thanksgiving a whole week of vacation.)

After waiting patiently for over 1 ½ hours the “welcomed” public was allowed to speak to Item 9: Other Topics. How welcome were the opinions, cares, and concerns of these Lowell Joint “family” members? The Board chose this night to enforce the three-minute-rule via a three-minute timer and a gong (I mean gavel.) Really?

I understand the need to keep the long-winded under control. I understand the need to keep a long meeting from getting epic. I understand Robert’s Rules of Order. What I don’t understand is how a school board that says, “We value you; You are important; You are appreciated;” could, through its actions, say, “Shut up. Sit down. We’ve heard enough. Your words aren’t worth more than three minutes: exactly!”

Researchers tell us that most people fear public speaking more than they do death, yet this night a dozen people had prepared remarks, come early, signed up to speak, waited their turn, only to be cut-off as they were in the process of making closing statements. REALLY???

Who would do that? Why would they do that? If actions speak louder than words, then the Board made clear that they are not interested in hearing from their “family” of employees, both classified and certificated. From their position of elected authority, they repeatedly issued a loud “Shhh…” via the sound of a bell and a gavel.

How bad was it? Mrs. Averill imposed the three-minute gavel on Mrs. Mayer, the president of the classified union, who had more than a dozen unit members standing while she made her remarks. (12 x 3 would be 36 minutes, but Ronnie was given three. She only needed six. She was reading her speech.)

The district is calling for “civility” in our exchanges, yet they gave an institutionalized “Shhh” to the head of one of the unions? It was shameful, and I said so when my turn came to speak.

Another member of the audience turned in a request to speak and then granted her minutes so that Mrs. Mayer could complete her remarks. She did so in less than three additional minutes. Could the board not give six minutes to the head of a bargaining unit with so many of the unit members in attendance? Really? (How unwise. How shortsighted. How rude. How uncivil.)

In another post I’ll share a bit about what each of the dozen speakers said, because it will not show up in the “In the Know.” Why not?

Because the Board demonstrated that it is not interested in any other opinion other than its own, nor is it interested in listening to the other stakeholders in the district, at least not to the workers.

What stakeholders will they listen to? The voting public! The informed and questioning public!

(And I’ll bet that they are a lot less likely to impose a three-minute rule on them when they speak at a Board Meeting. Just ask the Bakis family: they asked questions, they got answers, and they did not get the gavel.

The gavel was reserved for others. The gavel-of-shame was wielded to quell the speech of those who also asked questions, but got no answers. Who shared concerns, but got no response. What did we get? The gavel.

(We didn’t even get rollover minutes from the many who spoke in less than three-minutes.) AT&T gets it. Why doesn’t our Board?

Shame on them.

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