Should the Wake County school board consider putting time limits on how long individual board members can debate issues at meetings?
The school board's policy on rules of order has a section on board debate, including saying a person who hasn't spoken yet should be allowed to talk before a board member speaks again. It also talks about, to the extent possible, alternating between proponents and opponents of a measure.
During Tuesday's policy committee meeting, board member Susan Evans said she's fine with the present debate rules. But Evans also asked if they wanted to consider putting time limits on how much individual board members can speak when they have the floor.
“Since I’ve been on the board, felt like some of our meetings have run extremely long," Evans said. "Not because I’m trying to squelch anybody’s opportunity to speak, but I feel like sometimes what some people say could be said in a couple of minutes and they go on for 10-15 minutes.
Then one person talks and that same person wants to talk again for 10 minutes. I’m just throwing this out there for discussion purposes.
We would like to think that we’re responsible adults that wouldn’t need such a policy, but I’ve just found that it seems like sometimes our meetings get out of control. Some people try to control the table for long periods of time."
The most obvious example of a meeting running long took place in June during the discussion on the student assignment directive scrapping the choice plan. The meeting went past 1 a.m.
Of the other four board members at the committee meeting, only Debra Goldman expressed any interest in Evans' idea. The irony is that some of Goldman's critics have accused her of holding up meetings with her questions and speeches.
“It’s funny. I was thinking we could have something similar," Goldman said. "In public comment we limit everybody, but sometimes we have board member comments that just go on and on and on.”
Evans said they might want to limit how many separate times a board member can speak on the same issue.
Board member John Tedesco argued that Robert's Rules of Order, which the school board ostensively uses, has rules regulating how long debates can go. Tedesco said the board chair can follow the rules of procedure in Robert's Rules and declare the debate is getting repetitive.
“It’s just about having an effective chair," Tedesco said.
But Evans said that there have been times when chairman Kevin Hill has done what Tedesco has suggested and board members have screamed that he's trying to cut them off.
Temporary Superintendent Stephen Gainey asked school board attorney Jonathan Blumberg if he's aware of other school boards that have a policy that set limits on how long board members can speak.
Blumberg saod that he tends to agree with Tedesco's comments that the chair can just call the question after saying everyone has spoken and that it's getting receptive.
Blumberg said that while it's not impossible to include language on time limits it would be hard to keep time. For instance, he asked if they'd count back and forth exchanges.
Bllumberg said that debate can progress the development of the discussion, resulting in constructive dialogue that's adding value. When it's only leading to argument he said the chair can say that and call the question.
Gainey said he's seen board chairs do it both ways in the past few years in which sometimes the chair says you can't speak until everyone else has had a chance.
Gainey said that the board may want to have a discussion about norms for meetings. He said it's human nature that a person can be offended when told they have to wait before they can speak again.
Goldman said the hardest thing is when you want to say something in direct response to a statement and have to wait 25 minutes till it comes around to you.
Evans said she's prefer to "leave it loose" in terms of the order of who gets to speak. She said she doesn't want to be legalistic.
But Evans said she'd like for board members to be respectful of everyone else's time. She said it's something they might want to discuss at a future school board retreat.
“Say what you need to say, but there doesn’t have to be a dissertation," Evans said.
Board member Jim Martin, the chair of the policy committee, said he'd want to give the board chair latitude on the issue and not add time limit wording to the policy. He said that issues like this are already covered in Robert's Rules, pointing to an example of where it says a person can't speak for more than 10 minutes at a time without permission of the group.
Board member Christine Kushner said they as individual members can help the chair with governing the meetings.
Evans continued to raise concerns.
“It seems like in the last several months, things have gotten pretty out of control and gone on and on and on and on about some stuff," Evans said.
“So let’s not go on and on and on about this," Martin said to laughs from the table.
Martin said Evans' point is well taken and something they all need to work at.