Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Failures of Tonight's Livestream of Board Meeting

I'd really like to be able to say good things about tonight's Livestream of the Richland 2 Board Meeting.
1. The open session started on time at 5:30PM
2. The open session resumed at 6:00PM

Now, let me list the failures.

- Before 5:30PM there was utter audio confusion.
- No call-in telephone number was provided.
- At 5:30PM no roll call was taken. It was impossible to know who was present in person, who was present by telephone, and whether any board member was absent.
- Confusion continued as the open session moved into Executive Session.
- The open session re-convened at 6:00PM.
- No roll call was taken.
- No mention of those who had telephoned into the meeting.
- No reason given for their attending by phone, as required in the Board Policy.
- Motion to approve agenda. Vote was 6-1. The Nay vote was not identified.
- After the Consent Agenda was approved 7-0, the Chair mentioned some were tele-conferencing.

* Those who were teleconferencing should have been identified at the beginning of the meeting. The reason for their so doing should have been explained. The Chair should have made certain that all could hear and be heard.

- BEDH was considered. McKie could not be heard. Agostinis said she did not support the suspension of Public Participation. Shadd could not be heard. McKie could not be heard or understood. Shadd could not be heard as he addressed the Supt. He apparently turned his head toward the Supt. and away from his microphone. The vote was 6-1. The Nay vote was not identified..

- The discussion of the 2020-2021 Calendar was a 3-ring circus. Elkins-Johnson ultimately withdrew her motion, but the Chair still called for a vote. Where was the copy of Robert's Rule of Order?

- 6;50PM Why does McKie constantly suck up to Supt. Davis? She rambled on and on, just grabbing mic time. The Chair should cut her off.

- Finally, at 6:57PM, when Board & Supt. Comments started, the Chair disclosed who was attending by phone. Five Board members were on the phone. Agostini, McKie, Holmes, Caution-Parker, Elkins-Johnson.
- This meant the Board did not have a quorum of five present in person at the meeting.
- I content a public body must have a quorum present in person to hold a valid public meeting.
- Only Manning and Shadd were present in person.
- This very likely means that tonight's meeting was not a valid, legal meeting of the public body.

Wait, one more good thing to say. Shadd did not have anything to say during the Board & Supt. Comments.

- When the motion to adjourn was made, there was a voice vote which could not be heard. The Chair should have called the name of each board member and waited for the Yes or No response. The Chair announced "It's unanimous" and the Livestream instantly cut off. Presumably he continued to say that the meeting was adjourned. Otherwise, everybody must still be sitting there.

The bottom line? This board doesn't have a clue how to conduct a meeting when a number of members attend by phone. Hopefully they will seek expert advice before they try it again.

Public Participation or Attendance?

The Richland 2 School Board is poised to act at tonight's board meeting to suspend Public Participation. Board Policy BEDH is on the agenda as an item preceding the usual Public Participation segment.

The Board is apparently unable to distinguish between public participation (speaking at meetings) and public attendance (sitting and observing the meeting). Why is it wanting to suspend Public Participation? Why does it want to silence the public? Why is it infringing on the First Amendment rights of the public?

Should the board approve the suspension, presumably they will deem their action effective immediately, thereby preventing any member of the public from speaking tonight.

The problem?

Item 4 on the agenda is approval of the agenda. The agenda contains Public Participation as Item 7. If the board, as part of Item 6, suspends Public Participation, they should be able to only make it effective for future meetings. Since Public Participation will already have been approved as part of tonight's meeting, how will they be able to prevent someone from speaking?

And why would they do so?

The next problem with tonight's meeting is the announced exclusion of the public from tonight's public board meeting. An open meeting of a public body, such as a school board, cannot exclude the public. But the District has announced its intention to do so. It seems to consider audio-streaming as the equivalent of being present at a meeting. IT IS NOT.

Who authorized the District to announce a restriction that eliminates the public from tonight's meeting? Did the Administration (represented by Supt. Baron Davis) make that decision on its (his) own? Certainly, the Board never met to consider or approve that.

And a false reason is given, when the District states on its website: "Due to the restrictions on public gatherings related to the coronavirus, the public will not be able to attend the meeting..." This is false!

Gov. McMaster issued an Executive Order prohibiting gatherings of three or more people, but he meant groups of people on the streets, in parks, in neighborhoods, etc. He did not mean people at home, at work, or at law-abiding businesses.

So the public can attend tonight's meeting, except the School District is saying it cannot. This is clearly a violation of its authority and of the law. And even of the Constitution.

So much for being a law-abiding business.

I write this with full appreciation for the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat. The public is smart enough to make its own decisions. Perhaps it is illegal (against the Governor's mandate, as the District calls it) for even the Board to meet in executive or open session, even without an audience.

What the Board should do is create seating for tonight's meeting with regard to social-distancing, and then permit attendance by a number limited to specified seats. You know, like President Trump does at his press conferences. All the chairs are there, but reporters are scattered throughout the room.