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Middletown Board of Education Considers Time Limits For Public Comment

The change would allow the presiding board officer to limit members of the public to three minutes of comment if the public comment portion appears that it will exceed 30 minutes.

The Board of Education could adopt a new public comment rule, which would limit the members of the public to three minutes of comment if the public comment portion of the meeting appears that it may exceed 30 minutes.

“You want to make the person at the end of the [public comment] line may have the opportunity to speak,” said Superintendent of Schools William George.

The original rules, stated in the 167th Bylaw on Public Participation in Board Meetings, were adopted in March 2006 and included public standards in which all persons wishing to participate in a public board meeting register with the board secretary in advance of the meeting. This portion of the rule has been removed in the updated version to be adopted. 

The new rules included in the bylaw would state:

  1. A participant must be recognized by the presiding officer and must preface comments by an announcement of his/her name, place of residence, and group affiliation, if appropriate;
  2. In the event it appears the public comment portion of the meeting may exceed thirty minutes, the presiding officer may limit each statement made by a participant to three minutes’ duration;
  3. No participant may speak more than once on the same topic until all others who wish to speak on that topic have been heard;
  4. All statements shall be directed to the presiding officer; no participant may address or question Board members individually;
  5. The President is responsible for the orderly conduct of the meeting and shall rule on such matters as the speaker’s right to address the Board, the time to be allowed for public discussion, the appropriateness of the subject being presented and the sustainability of the time for such a presentation. The Board president shall be responsible for recognizing all speakers, for maintaining proper order, and for adhere to the time limit set. Questions asked by the public shall, when possible, be answered immediately by the President or referred to the Superintendent’s reply by the Board or the Superintendent for consideration and later response.

This new rule was introduced upon first reading Monday during the Board of Education pre-meeting workshop. No actions were made because it was in its first reading.

Board of Education President Joan Minnuies said this current board has not shut anyone down from speaking about agenda items during the public comment portion of the meeting, as she recalled.

The three minutes limitation is not a mandated time limit but may become applicable if the line of people wishing to speak during the public comment portion is “really long”.

The three-minute limitation is common amongst Boards, said Board of Education Chairman Vincent Brand.

Minnuies suggested five minutes for members of the public to comment rather than three minutes allowing for enough time in which "people can get their points across."

There will be further discussion about the suggested change during the Board of Education meeting on August 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Middletown High School North library. 

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