Parents question Huntsville City Schools board citizen comment policy

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville City Schools Board of Education President Laurie McCaulley brought up citizen comments at Thursday's work session.

"What I'm trying to do today is really just have open discussion of the procedures," she said. "I've taken the liberty to find out, and we are going to discuss, 15 school systems across the state and what they do. And then we are going to address our school system and what we do."

In Huntsville, citizens are often allowed to ask questions about items as the board addresses them. The public comments are usually reserved toward the end of meetings, but McCaulley said people can sign up until 10 minutes before the meetings start.

As far as how that research goes, McCaulley said, "They're not televising, and very few of them allow you to just walk up. A vast majority of them say you have to submit it in writing... I think there needs to be open dialogue about this board's procedure and the transparency that you really have that maybe some people didn't know that they had."

The public comments portion of Huntsville City School meetings has been widely criticized by Pam Hill, the new school board representative for District 5 come November. She wants to see the time limit increased from three minutes, the comments televised on ETV, and the comment portion pushed up in the agenda.

"If they're going to come and wait, think they should have the time to express what's the matter," she told WHNT News 19. "If it takes longer than three minutes, they deserve that."

Other parents chimed in during the open session, "There are single parents, there are parents whose spouses work late night jobs. What are they doing with their children to have to sit here until 9 or 9:30 at night," one person asked. She too wanted to see the public comment portion pushed up in the meetings to a higher agenda item.

Others argued that the board works for the people, who elects them. "What is the will of the people? You all serve at the will of the people, and it should be what we desire," she said.

But board members said it isn't always that simple. Mike Culbreath said some comments can't be heard in public because of their sensitive nature. "It's not like a city council, where in the council you can stand up and talk about any topic. Usually, that doesn't involve children. This has all kinds of special other rules," he said. "This is not just a time that we're limiting people to come up and speak. There's certain things that can't be talked about in an open meeting."

McCaulley said it isn't clear yet if the board will change their current policy. More research is needed, if that's what they choose to do. She did tell WHNT News 19 the board does care what people have to say, and wants to make the process better and more efficient.