Los Banos Talk
On April 22, 2021 at The LBUSD Board of Trustees held a short special meeting regarding approving of the consent calendar. One public comment was submitted, but Board President Ray Martinez said that it will not be read in this afternoon's meeting because "Roll-call is not an item that a speaker can comment on and the speaker will need to wait until next regular meeting, and as a reminder comments are limited to 450 words." Trustee Marlene Smith asked, "why can't the public comment be read?". To which President Martinez replied, "It was regarding roll-call, which is not an item that a person can publicly comment on". He continued on to say that the person "can ask questions and try and re-word their comment" and re-submit it into next regular meeting. You can watch the interchange by clicking here.
Generally speaking the intent of trying to limit the scope of public comments is in the interest of saving time, but the amount of time that was spent explaining and justifying not reading the comment was probably about the same amount of time it would have taken to simply just read the comment. In legal terms, comments have one or multiple topics that they could cover and these topics can be broken down into two categories agenda items and non-agenda items. An agenda item would be a topic concerning something that is on the agenda and non-agenda items would be a topic that is not on the agenda that meeting. A comment regarding "roll-call" would likely be something regarding a past vote or the procedure of voting itself. Adopting by-laws and any other changes to procedure are something that would fall under the perview of the board and while they were not on the agenda that night, it could be considered a non-agenda item.
If it is a non-agenda item, which in this case it allegedly was, then it can still be read into the meeting. Here is a clip from a Board meeting held on April 8, 2021 in which President Martinez explains the process. Speakers may address the board on non-agenda items by email, so long as it is submitted before 3pm that day, and is under 450 words. Comments on non-agenda items will not be read during the meeting but will be disseminated to all trustees prior to the meeting and will be publicly published on the LBUSD website. This comment was not read aloud, nor published, nor disseminated to the other board members. In fact, the only person I actually know to have read it is the board President Ray Martinez, and I did confirm other trustees did not receive it.
This leaves me with several questions. What is to stop the president from simply censoring comments he doesn't like by claiming they are off topic? How do we even know what the subject of the comment even is if no one else gets to read it, after all disserning the subject of a comment is a somewhat subjective task. Was there really any harm in just reading the comment? Finally, how strange is it that someone who usually struggles with parliamentary procedure and meeting proceedings suddenly became an expert on the nature of agenda items and obscure rules pertaining to the eligibility of public comments? In conclusion, there is an argument to be made that the public comment didn't have to be read aloud, but there isn't a defence that I can think of to justify not publishing it or disseminating it to the other trustees. Whatever legal trouble the President fears could come from reading or publishing a comment not on topic to the meeting, arguably pails in comparison to effectively silencing someone trying to address their elected representatives and infringing on their 1st amendment to free speech.
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