Right now: Board discusses limits to Citizens to be Heard

Chancellor Bruce Leslie and (some of) the Trustees want to severely limit what people can say and how long they can say it at Citizens to be Heard. To be publicly elected representatives those Trustees have gotten pretty sensitive about hearing from their constituents. If they can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Better yet, who’s in favor of introducing TERM LIMITS for Board members?

Here’s the article from The Ranger:

Proposals limit student, employee access to trustees

Committees to consider clarifications for board policies Tuesday.

By Cynthia M. Herrera

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Policies restricting citizens-to-be-heard will be reconsidered at 8 p.m. Tuesday during the Policy and Long-Range Planning Committee meeting in Killen Center.

The restrictions were on the agenda for the Sept. 8 committee meeting, but Denver McClendon, District 2 trustee and committee chair; District 1 trustee Joe Alderete; District 9 trustee James Rindfuss; and student trustee Sami Adames decided to table the proposed policy revisions for further clarification.

The agenda and proposed policy changes are available at https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicAgenda.aspx?ak=1000015&mk=50175882.

For Policy B.8.1, Board and Standing Committee Meetings, the section for public participation has changes proposed for the citizens-to-be-heard portion of meetings.

In the proposed revisions, there would be no more than an hour assigned for citizens-to-be-heard except when a majority of the board votes to expand or restrict a person’s time limit.

A person who speaks during this portion of the meeting would be heard unless the board chairperson decides differently depending on the subject matter.

A person would not be allowed to speak more than once per meeting during citizens-to-be-heard.

Ross Laughead, general counsel, was not sure if this applied to individuals representing a group.

“It’s basically so that one person can’t totally take over the citizens-to-be-heard at the expense of everybody else,” he said.

“The board has a certain amount of time before everyone gets tired and wants to go home,” Laughead said. “The board wants to make itself available so that citizens can be heard, but the board needs some means of effectively handing that and so they’re thinking over what might need some adjustments to the current Policy B.8.1.”

In other proposed revisions, if a speaker starts a personal, verbal attack on a person, including board members or employees of the district, the board chairperson would give a warning to the person. If the person continues, the chairperson could revoke the right to speak, remove the person or both.

If the chairman does neither, any board member could ask for enforcement.

In addition, the chairman would not allow employees or student complaints during citizens-to-be-heard unless the speaker has gone through administrative solutions, which is stated in the revision of Policy B. 8.1.1, Administrative Remedies Before Resorting to Citizens-to-be-heard.

Within Policy B. 8.1.1, Procedure D. 3.3, Employee Complaints, is referred to within the policy, which was adopted by the board April 2009 with the last amendment in January 2010.

President Robert Vela said the policy refers to that procedure because it gives a chance for administrators to respond and attempts to mend issues rather than hearing issues for the first time during board meetings.

“We have opportunities through Senate or Staff Council or the Student Government Association to bring up issues that are related to the college so that we can try to remedy those or fix them … that’s the traditional kind of body that’s authorized to bring these issues forward to administration and address those concerns,” Vela said. “It’s not a requirement, but it’s difficult for us to address issues when we first hear about them at the board. Bring it to our attention, to your supervisor or the college executive team’s attention so we can try to do what we can with it.”

Kelley Shannon, executive director of Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said employees and students are citizens and should be treated equally as those citizens not directly involved with the college.

“Students and faculty are taxpayers and their money helps to support the college so they should not be shut off from being able to speak out on important issues. The rules need to be fair and the same for everyone,” Shannon said. “Everyone needs to remember that openness is so important in our government and all levels of government, and citizen access is key to our democracy functioning.”

If board members should seek the person who spoke for input, the chairperson must consult with the chancellor and can schedule a brief special board meeting just before a regular board meeting.

Laughhead said a problem with citizens-to-be-heard is that the board cannot address the speakers unless it’s on the agenda.

“One of the problems with citizens-to-be-heard is people come and they talk to the board, but unless the item is on the agenda, the board is prohibited by the Open Meetings Act from saying anything, which is frustrating for everyone,” Laughead said. “They’re just trying to figure out a way to make citizens-to-be-heard so that it works out for everybody.”

The board can’t comment during citizens-to-be-heard because of the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Government Code Chapter 551, Section 551.042, which has been in effect since September 1993.

The only clarifications for Policy B.3.3 Board of Trustees Ethics, is for Item 4.

The proposal would change the policy from “welcoming and encouraging active communication with students, the public and media … for current and future college operations,” to stating the board should “provide access points,” for the public all while “maintaining the integrity of the board governance guidelines.”

Access points are ways for the public to make their views known to the trustees, Laughead said.

The Board Officer’s Policy, B.4.1, gives an overview of performing duties and functions required by law such as the chairman would not be allowed to have a vote on board committees and is not to be counted or substituted to establish a quorum.

Should the board chairperson be unavailable, the vice chairman would serve as a temporary chairman.

If the chairman decides to resign from the position, the board would elect a permanent replacement for the remainder of the term.

The policy clarifies a vice chairperson is not an interim.

The board liaison would serve as deputy secretary and assist the secretary and assistant secretary.

In Policy B. 5.2, Board Member Authority, the section for individual access to information reflects additions such as board members should not conduct independent investigations, hearings, listening sessions or fact-gathering from employees.

If any trustee should visit one of the Alamo Colleges, the trustee should notify the president in advance, and if a trustee wants to visit district support operations, the trustee should advise the appropriate vice chancellor.

For complaints about the chancellor, a board member should refer the complainant to the district’s internal auditor or counsel.

Standing committee meetings begin at 6 p.m. in Killen Center.

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