SARASOTA — The Sarasota County School Board discussed changes to its public comment protocol, after a year in which several meetings have included hours of squabbling between some board members and residents.
The policy in place gives speakers up to 3 minutes to address the board, forbids abusive language and does not allow people to play audio recordings or yield their time to another speaker.
The proposed new policy would still allow for public comment, but the more speakers that show up, the less time each person would get.
If there are between one and 10 speakers, each would get 3 minutes; between 11 and 20 speakers would mean each gets 2 minutes, and if there are more than 20 speakers, each person would get 1 minute.
There are also discussions for having one speaker represent a large group, rather than giving everyone a turn to talk.
“We’ve looked at policies in Broward and Duval counties, and also the one from Manatee County,” School Board Chair Shirley Brown said. “One big difference is the time frame for public speakers.”
Board members discussed possibly changing the policy.
“Hearing of citizens should be limited to one hour at the beginning of the meeting and then we can open public comment at the end,” Vice Chair Jane Goodwin said. “This is what other districts are doing.”
Board member Karen Rose suggested to update the policy and procedures to help the meetings run more smoothly.
“We need to get our business done without keeping staff here for hours late into the evening,” she said.
Ziegler was not in support of capping the public speaking time.
“We need to leave it open because I believe it will help calm the waters,” she said.
Attorney Dan Deleo said the current policy states that people have a reasonable opportunity to be heard.
“It’s an issue many school boards are dealing with right now,” Deleo said.
Brown said she would put a proposal together and present it to the Board at the next workshop.
“We can possibly vote on it next month and then we would need to advertise it before if could become effective,” Brown said.
The hearing of residents at the beginning of the afternoon meeting lasted for about 90 minutes.
Many of the comments were against reducing the time of public comment and the right to be heard.
“The COVID-19 positivity rate (Monday) was 7.37%,” Superintendent Brennan Asplen said Tuesday.
“If we are under 8% (Wednesday) we will go back to masks being optional. We will send a message out to parents if that happens.”
The next board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 5.