At the MAS Board meeting of 04/16/01, two young folk I assumed to be high school students addressed the board during the public comment period. The unidentified male student, Don Erickson, lectured the board about its "corrupt public comments policy". Those comments must have amused the other students that sat with him, judging by their smirks, giggles and whispers. Why they found Erickson's rhetoric funny, I can only guess. I noticed no one else smiling.
An unidentified female companion, at Mr. Erickson's table, also addressed the board. She charged the board with failure to do their job, but she failed to inform all in attendance what it was the board had failed to do, and what she wanted it to do. Her "comments", also, were found amusing by those in her company.
Related to the above events are comments from Jim Anderson, the recently resigned MAS Board of Education president. After announcing his resignation at the same meeting, he offered some personal insight in an article published by the Manistique local newspaper, the Pioneer Tribune. In that article he made the point that the board's public comment policy might need improving to meet some current public concerns, but it was in no one's interest to institute changes that moved the focus of the board's business from education to debating.
To make his point in a bolder fashion, I might have said, in his position "Most, if not all Board members, do not have enough life, or the inclination, to spend it researching all the information that is necessary to meet their public responsibilities. To suggest that they have the responsibility and the time to answer or to provide detailed commentary concerning every question, request, complaint, etc., offered by any individual member of the public is ludicrous." "If they were full time paid employees, with the skills and knowledge required to meet the demands of various individuals and organizations, then it might be considered, if the public chooses to pay the bill for endless pissing contests."
Said Anderson's way, my way, or any other way you choose, the reality is, as "Mr. Bill Scharffe at the Michigan Association of Boards .... replied (to Don Erickson's query) by saying .... Yes, Don, the policy is very much a uniform policy. The open meetings act requires that the public body allow comments from the public, but they, the Board members, are under absolutely NO obligation to reply to the comments"
If the web site still exists, you can see Mr. Erickson's web page below for an "official" response to Mr. Erickson's concerns of the MAS Board's "corrupt" public comment policy.
Public comments should be heard and considered, but there is no guarantee that anyone will listen, or take action; as it should be. To call such a policy, "corrupt", or to label those that adhere to such a policy as "corrupt" is a disservice to all those that live in a less than perfect world, and reveals ignorance of a basic principal of our representative democratic government in action, ie. within the rules of order, anyone is allowed to speak, but no one is compelled to listen. Judging from numerous local media reports, it is a basic principal of government misunderstood by more than two high school students, and, in my opinion, it is a misunderstanding that helped force a resignation of a well qualified, if not perfect, MAS Board of Education member.
How long would it take to debate the merits of one person's perception of a "corrupt" public comment policy?
How long would it take to debate the merits of one person's undefined perception of the school board's "failures"?
How long would it take to debate the merits of every board member's substantiation of every decision they make?
How long would it take to debate the merits of one man's perception of what the MAS alternative education plan should be?
How long would it take to debate the merits of one mother's perception of a threat to her child?
There is no end to arguments and disagreements over most issues of social significance, and public comment policy must be tailored accordingly, regardless of disgruntled and aggressive members of the public who promote ill will, threaten, intimidate, initiate recalls, or worse. The public comment period is a forum for public input that may be considered by those elected or appointed to a public office. The public comments period was not conceived as a tool of coercion for a minority of special interests practicing single issue politics, be they students, businessmen or retired teachers.
Within the context of government, the option to ignore the content of comments, public or private, provides public officials the option to proceed with business that they deem to be in the best public interest, after being made aware of views to the contrary. The option to ignore public comments may be used as a tool to render minority views impotent, regardless of the relevancy of those views. The option to ignore public comments may be used to promote the domination of one group, by another, i.a.w. other facets of our representative form of government. In a representative government context, regardless of the personal impact upon the life of any individual, ignoring "public comments" promotes progress with the sanction of the majority, right or wrong, with the force of law, with or without the majority's awareness of the issues and ethics of any particular decision.
The competence and ethical integrity of influential officials, public or private, who choose to ignore minority opinion, is all that separates individuals of the general public, involved with the minority necessities of their own lives, from their predatory neighbors who would add to their lives at the expense of others. In a sense, for those that refuse to elect representatives and employ individuals based on competence and ethical standards, their is little difference between the officials of totalitarian governments and those of a representative democracy. Both care not for public comments, and "their will be done" regardless of reasons to the contrary.