The Garden City Community College Board of Trustees reinstated the open comments portion of their monthly meeting Tuesday, a platform heavily used by locals until the board suspended it in February.
As was the policy before the suspension, the renewed open comments segment will be 30 minutes long, with each speaker allotted five minutes. But the reinstated segment also comes with guidelines regarding content.
Crafted with the help of the board’s attorney Randy Grisell, the update policy states that public comments should “be relevant to matters over which (the board) has authority,” “should respect the rights of all persons” and “should not engage in personal attacks or disruptive behavior.” The policy notes that the segment is not intended to be a “question and answer time” and reminds speakers that the board cannot take binding action on items not included on the agenda. It states that the board “has a right to conduct an orderly and efficient public meeting.”
According to the policy, comments directed to the board should pertain to “Ends” policies, or the college’s mission, essential skills students are expected to learn on campus, skills learned at GCCC that will aid students in their future workplace, students’ academic achievement, personal enrichment, community outreach and workforce development.
Though not explicitly mentioned in the public comments policy, the Board of Trustees also oversees the college president, including his or her powers, treatment of others, budgeting and financial planning, impact on the financial condition of the college, communication with the board, protection of college assets, and compensation.
For several months through 2018 and 2019, the board rarely had a meeting where at least one member of the public did not speak out during the public comments segment, using it to criticize the college’s handling of sexual harassment concerns, the environment fostered by former GCCC President Herbert Swender, the board’s transparency with the public and legal disputes with the college, among other topics.
The board suspended the platform earlier this year, claiming, among other reasons, the time was being used for public attacks.
During further discussion of the decision, trustee chair Blake Wasinger said the policy included a suggestion that those using the public comments segment direct their comments to the board, not present college administrators. He said administrators should make time to speak to students, staff and members of the public outside of meetings, and that if anyone has trouble connecting with an administrator, they should alert the board.
“Discussion to administration should be during administration time. It’s not board time,” Wasinger said.
Trustee vice chair Terri Worf followed up, noting that the public comments segment is strictly for comments, not a time to delve into details or deep discussion about questions and concerns. The board wants to carry out meaningful and helpful dialogue, but the more intricate discussions should happen outside of meetings, she said.
The board approved the new policy with a 5-1 vote, with Trustee Leonard Hitz voting against it. Hitz told The Telegram after the meeting that he voted against the motion because he wanted to discuss the policy further, including whether it infringed on the right to free speech.
“I thought we needed a little more discussion but I wasn’t opposed to it at all,” Hitz said.
After the vote, Wasinger asked if anyone wanted to speak and, when Garden Citian Aaron Kucharik said yes, the board unanimously voted to amend the agenda to include a public comment section that night. Kucharik thanked the board for reinstating the platform but said he was concerned that the potential decision was not included anywhere on the meeting’s agenda or packet. He also said, even with microphones, it was difficult for present community members to hear the details of the restrictions.
“Thank you for bringing it back. I know I’m not the only one that appreciates it. There’s many people in the community that appreciate it,” Kucharik said.
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