Park City School District Is Considering Revamping Their Approach to Public Comment
Have a question for the Park City School Board and decided you’ll show up to a School Board meeting to ask your question? You better relish the story of the Battle of Marathon. That story highlights how the Greeks defeated the Persians in a city called Marathon and a runner ran 26 miles to Athens to deliver the news. However, instead of waiting hours for the runner to arrive, you’ll wait days for your response from the Park City School Board.
From what we’ve witnessed, concerned students, faculty, and parents attend school board meetings to ask questions of the district. You may think that when you ask a question you’ll get an immediate response. Instead, that response comes days (perhaps weeks) later on their website. It’s frankly not a good way to engage in public dialogue.
The Park City School Board seems to understand that. According to an interview this morning with KPCW’s Lynn Ware Peek, the Park City School Board President, Tanya Knauer, says they are looking to improve the process. She said they are looking at the ways Park City and Summit County answer public comment for guidance. They want to improve their process.
When we have asked questions of the Park City or the Summit County Council, the processes have been similar. The Council will listen to what you say and various members of the boards will tell you what they think immediately. When you ask a question of the school board, they sit quietly and then don’t answer the question. You then check their website and a written paragraph gives the official “answer” of the school board days or weeks later. While we understand that the approach is “tidy,” it is often lacking.
One of the key problems, that we have addressed before, is that we think the current school district process violates Utah Open Meeting laws. According to Utah law, policy decisions must be made in the open so that the public understands how decisions are made. In many cases with public comment, we feel the school board violates that rule.
For instance, say you ask the school board if they will start Park City High School classes 1 hour later. A week later you may read a response on the website. It will be a simple paragraph explaining what has been decided.
Yet, how does that response come into existence? How did school board member JJ Ehlers feel about it? What did Moe Hickey think? Did everyone agree? Who had a different opinion than the majority? You will never know. Policy is effectively being made and the public doesn’t know how it happened.
That is the problem.
So we hope the Park City School Board will decide to continue their efforts at increased transparency and have a discussion in front of the person asking a question. If there is something worth voting on, then it can be scheduled for a later session. If there are items requiring a “closed” session like personnel or land acquisition they can handle that separately and stated explicitly. Otherwise, the school board members can each honestly answer the question that has been asked by the citizens … and on the record.
When you look at Park City Schools, they are one of the most transparent government groups in Summit County. They have videos of meetings online within a couple of days, minutes of meetings are posted almost immediately, and they endeavour to include other government groups in their thought process.
They do many things better than most.
Public comment is one gaping hole that has been left open. If they are willing to address that issue, it is nothing but positive for the people of Park City and Summit County… and the Park City School District.
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