This week the Warren School Board and the members of the community butted up against the tenuous balance between a board’s need to get its work done and the legitimate right of the public to participate.
The Warren School Board is no stranger to a room packed with community members wanting to be heard. This summer and fall the board has done most of its work in front of a largely unhappy crowd, wanting to voice their objections to the board’s failure to renew the contract of a longtime administrative assistant.
This week, the board allotted a specific amount of time for public comment and after it was used up, refused to allow more. Perhaps that’s a draconian response to the board’s long summer and fall of being taken to task by an unhappy public. Board members said it was a desire to get on with the business of doing the board’s work. That’s understandable, to a degree.
All elected officials must, by necessity, do their work in public and they must also allow and encourage public participation because it is critical to any legitimate public process.
And only a very few boards (the Waitsfield Select Board, the Warren School Board and sometimes the Moretown Select Board) end up trying to do their work in a roomful of people who have something to say of current issues and affairs.
Far too many boards do their work with only a tape recorder, a reporter and a TV camera operator present to observe them. Board members often bemoan the fact that so few people ever bother to actually come to meetings to express their opinions and concerns.
Too many boards make policy and make other important decisions in a vacuum. As cumbersome and inconvenient and inefficient as it may be to try to get work done with a roomful of people who have lots to say about what a board is doing, it’s how our system works.
All boards must perform their duties in a productive manner and a community that cares deeply about its town is going to want to be part of the discussion of the issues that deeply affect a town or school.
The precarious act of balancing efficiency with the right of the public to participate in the decision making is not an easy task – but it must be done.