Manatee County school board broke state law, own policies on public commenting

October 17, 2013 

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Manatee County School Board member Karen Carpenter. File photo/PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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At its Oct. 14 meeting, the Manatee County School Board engaged is a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law and its own published policies.

A number of citizens timely submitted comment cards asking to speak on certain agenda items. They were not informed until after the meeting was called to order that no public comment would be heard on those agenda items.

When two of the citizens objected, Board Chair Karen Carpenter refused to consider their request to speak generally and not on the specific agenda items allegedly excluded from public comment. Only board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner recognized that the Florida Sunshine Law takes priority over board policies.

The board received poor advice from its attorney, James Dye. He relied on one part of the school board's own policies allegedly prohibiting comment on certain personnel issues without advising the board that other published policies guarantee public comment on any agenda item.

Policy 2.7(2) states, "Any person may speak at a public school board meeting on a matter related to an issue of education."

Policy 2.7(2)(b) states, "Any person who wishes to speak on an item that has been published as part of the Board meeting agenda will be granted up to three minutes to speak at the time that item is considered by the Board, provided that a public comments registration card is completed and submitted to the agency clerk prior to the consideration of that agenda item."

Dye claimed inaccurately that the board could not hear public comment when acting as a quasi-judicial body addressing the personnel issues on the agenda. However, the Attorney General's Sunshine Manual states there is no exemption for quasi-judicial proceedings or personnel matters.

It seems we still have a problem with the board not listening to the citizens of Manatee County.

Scott Bassett

Bradenton

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