Members of the public who air grievances to the TUSD Governing Board will have one less opportunity to get a response if a proposed policy revision is approved.
The revision, recommended by Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva, would eliminate a board member’s ability to respond to criticism lodged during the call to the audience. It would also prohibit asking staff to review a matter raised by the public or asking that a matter be put on a future agenda.
The practice of allowing responses to audience members has been written into policy for nearly 15 years, 12 of which Grijalva has served for, and is allowed by law.
What isn’t allowed, however, is using that opportunity to engage in conversation with audience members or to deliver a long-winded speech, especially when what is being addressed is not on the agenda, possibly creating an open meeting law violation.
“I have done it as well,” Grijalva said in explaining her rationale. “It has been a norm at the board meetings since I came on the board that the response to the call was basically an open mic opportunity.”
Instead, the recommendation that was reviewed by the Governing Board Tuesday would only allow the sitting president to confirm that the superintendent will generate a report reviewing topics brought forward by the public.
The board has not yet scheduled a vote to adopt the change.
For Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, a TUSD parent who attends board meetings religiously, the proposed change flies in the face of the democratic process.
“I think there is a damning trend taking place on the TUSD board where the majority of the board is systematically reducing the rights of the minority,” Putnam-Hidalgo said. “I think that when you limit the possibility of response to audience comments, you are limiting the democratic process.”
Putnam-Hidalgo added the change would make a joke of the board’s stated intention to encourage the public to attend meetings.
Grijalva’s recommendation had the support of Clerk Kristel Foster, who said such a change could bring more of a unified voice to the community.
Foster noted governing board members would have an opportunity to give feedback on the report generated by the superintendent, but not on the dais with board members engaging in a “back and forth, gotcha” discussion, which she says doesn’t help improve the image of TUSD.
Governing Board member Mark Stegeman, however, did not agree.
“I think that personally there should be more interaction with the audience,” Stegeman said. “First, sometimes people from the public say something that is just wrong or doesn’t make any sense and I think then those of us who have been on the board at one time or another have found that a response is indeed appropriate.
“And secondly, I think it is sometimes more satisfying to the public to hear something, even if you’re disagreeing, at least the comment is not dropping into a black hole.”
Stegeman would rather see the board president exercise discretion and board members exercise restraint to ensure that the rules are being followed.
Grijalva said she has seen an increase in board member responses going beyond what is allowed, and has had to police what is being said with the help of board counsel.
“I’m happy to continue to do what we are doing; the problem is when I have to cut a colleague off, people get upset,” Grijalva said.
This is not the first time Grijalva has broached the subject. In February, during a presentation on open meeting law, she asked presenter Susan Segal, an attorney, her position on the matter.
Segal preferred that board members not respond at all, arguing that agendas give parents and community members an understanding of what is to be discussed.
“If you let call to the public drive that and you have too much comment, then they’re not going to know because there’s no indication of what you’re going to talk about,” Segal said.
In other business, the TUSD governing board filled two vacancies on the audit committee created by a death and a resignation.
The two community volunteers were appointed for four-year terms that expire Aug. 31, 2019. They are Ricky Hernandez, deputy superintendent and chief financial officer for the Office of the Pima County Superintendent of Schools, and Bill Tong, vice president of Alliance Bank of Arizona.
Both meet the district’s new residency requirement, which will create an additional two vacancies after June 30.
Hernandez and Tong were two of eight applicants looking to serve on the committee, which assists in assuring that the TUSD Governing Board adequately complies with its fiduciary oversight obligations, helps strengthen TUSD’s internal financial controls, and helps provide greater transparency of the district’s stewardship of tax dollars.
The remaining applications will be considered for the upcoming vacancies along with any others that may come in.