The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, November 24, 2021 1:00 am

NACS tables vote on meetings tweak

Differences remain on proposed changes to public interaction

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Northwest Allen County Schools board leaders will work with an attorney to finalize rules for public participation at meetings.

During a meeting conducted virtually via Zoom, the five members unanimously tabled a vote Monday on proposed revisions to the bylaw first presented Oct. 25.

“The good news is, philosophically, I hear some agreement on some of the big items that we want to accomplish,” Superintendent Chris Himsel said.

“It sounds to me as though we're talking about wordsmithing very minute details.”

Board President Kent Somers disagreed.

“There are some wordsmithing, but there are some operational and fundamental issues still in the document as it exists today, Chris,” Somers said without going into detail.

The board – which has attracted disruptive, unruly audiences in recent months – restructured its meetings this fall because of increased safety concerns during and after board meetings. It shifted to a virtual format Oct. 13 and held its first meeting without public comment Sept. 27.

Proposed changes to the public participation bylaw make clear that disruptive, intimidating and threatening behavior won't be tolerated. The use of profanity, raised voices, threatening gestures and physical force – or the threat of force – are among the behaviors that may result in removal from the meeting or the meeting being recessed or adjourned.

Members didn't criticize that language, but they questioned rules limiting who can speak.

For example, Steve Bartkus disagreed with requiring speakers to sign up before the meeting. He said attendees might arrive without intending to address the board only to change their mind during the meeting.

Himsel said that rule was in response to Bartkus wanting to end lengthy public comment periods.

“The meetings, the way we've been having them, yes,” Bartkus said. “In the future, hopefully this is not going to go on forever and ever and ever.”

Members also addressed speakers' two-minute time limit, a rule Himsel said is decades old. Liz Hathaway, board vice president, noted the proposed revisions would allow the board to extend a speaker's time by vote.

“Any of these rules could be waived with majority vote, which I have a problem with as well,” Somers said.

Member Ron Felger said he understood Somers' point because tracking motions, seconds and votes could be difficult for the presiding officer.

“That seems kind of unwieldy to me,” Felger said.

Somers and Hathaway plan to work with the board's legal counsel, Mark Scudder of Barnes & Thornburg, to refine the document.

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