A May 16 Star editorial (“TUSD board right to add another call to audience”) criticized my vote on the Tucson Unified School Districfs policy concerning audience calls, but the editorial presented only one side of the issue.
The editorial’s claim that Tucson Unified School District board members “have come under justified criticism for not listening to people gathered to speak about some of districfs most contentious issues” does not reflect the historical record.
Over the past year, the board has listened to every person who has asked to speak during the monthly audience call. To do so, the board has often extended the normal 45-minute call- to about 2 1/2 hours at one recent meeting.
During that year, we have heard more than1 00 speakers supporting the Mexican American Studies program or its teachers (including repeat appearances). We also have heard from about 20 speakers on the other side of that issue.
Although the board can restrict the speech that occurs inside the boardroom, in practice we have allowed great freedom of speech. Negative personal remarks about individual board members and the superintendent are common. The board, however, almost always maintains civility and treats even the rudest speakers courteously.
I am surprised, therefore, bythe claim that we have not listened to the public. Sometimes the audience speakers are repetitive, but we listen. Many audience speakers are very articulate and raise important issues that were previously unknown to us.
Listening also means much more than hearing the few persons who are able and willing to come to a Tuesday night board meeting.
When we rescheduled the meeting in April 2011 that had been canceled because students seized the boardroom and chained themselves into chairs, we added a special 30-minute audience call to the agenda and did not extend it. The priority in that case was to get through the meeting.
I later expressed regret that we did not extend that 30-minute call, but it is worth emphasizing that this has been the only meeting, during my entire time on the board, at which a significant number of speakers were left uncalled.
TUSD’s traditional policy of having one unrestricted audience call per month does have one important shortcoming: When a proposal appears after the monthly audience call and is scheduled for a vote before the next audience call, people have no opportunity to address the board publicly on that issue. Therefore, I have long supported adding a restricted audience call to every meeting, which would allow people to speak about anything scheduled for action at that meeting.
The recent disagreement concerning whether reasonable public access requires more than one unrestricted audience call per month. Even board meetings with no audience call usually extend past 10 p.m. and sometimes past 11, and the new 20-minute call can easity become longer if more people ask to speak.
The optimal poliy for audience calls is a grey area, not a black-and-white issue. Reasonable persons can disagree, but the Star would serve its readers better by acknowledging both sides of the issue.