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Public comment period added back to Alexandria School Board agenda

At the Monday, May 16, regular meeting, school board members approved allowing for a public comment period, but not without rules and for one school board member, not without some hesitation.

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ALEXANDRIA – A public comment period has been added back to the Alexandria School Board meetings after being put on hiatus since January.

Meetings had gotten out of hand with members of the audience heckling and laughing at those who were speaking, being disrespectful to those speaking, speakers going over the allotted time, speakers making individual comments toward school board members and more.

Board members and administration look for solution as meetings have become contentious and uncomfortable.

At the Monday, May 16, regular meeting, school board members approved allowing for a public comment period, but not without rules and for one school board member, not without some hesitation.

During the discussion about whether or not to allow a public comment period, School Board Member Pam Carlson said she could agree to it but questioned whether it should be on a short-term basis. She asked what would happen if the meetings got out of hand again.

Carlson said against her better judgment she could vote in favor of reinstating the public comment period but would like to make sure the school district and board continued to make sure people were respectful and that they respect the gavel, if it needed to be used. She said the board should review it after a month.

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As she continued sharing her concerns, someone in the audience laughed out loud at what she was saying. Carlson paused and said, “This is an example. We’re being laughed at while we are discussing this. It’s disrespectful that we can’t have a conversation without people making smears and laughing in the audience.”

School Board Member Alan Zeithamer, who originally made the motion to allow the public comment period again, spoke up and said that maybe there would be an appropriate amendment that would state that if things spiraled out of control, the board would just move back to what they have been doing the last couple of months.

Maureen Eigen, another school board member, said she thought it would be more appropriate for the board to review it and then vote on whether or not to discontinue or continue to have the public comment period to which a member of the audience applauded at her.

She said most people who talk to her in person want the public comment period back again.

So, the board’s final approval was to allow a public comment period at the end of the school board meetings with the following rules – people must sign up ahead of time, they must submit their comments in writing to the school district by the previous Wednesday, they get three minutes maximum to speak, they must meet policy guidelines regarding expectations on civil discourse and if a situation develops it would come under immediate review by the whole board and the board would make a decision.

Prior to the board approving the motion, Superintendent Rick Sansted said that earlier, when the meetings had gotten out of hand, the district heard that the board just needed to enforce the rules and that some people said to “smash the gavel” if needed.

“I think that today’s point, if it’s at the end of the meeting and disruption or whatever incivility breaks out, then move on and be done,” said Sansted.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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