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Friday, February 1, 2008

Bill would end school board gag orders

Trenton’s Board of Education would no longer be able to silence the public in the future with the pending passage of legislation requiring school boards to have a public comment session in every open meeting.

Two weeks ago school officials wary of the groundswell of public dismay over demolition plans for the Trenton Central High School decided not to hold public comment, but now that practice could no longer be legal in the future, after the bill was released from the Assembly Education Committee this week.

“Opening the floor of every public meeting to comments from residents is essential for good government to flourish,” said bill sponsor Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex, in a statement. “Promises of accountability, transparency, and openness at all levels of government are meaningless if state law looks the other way while some school boards law down ad hoc gag orders as a means of silencing critics and concerned residents.”

Language in the bill calls for amending the state’s Open Public Meetings Act to make school boards carve out a portion of all of their public meetings to allow the public in attendance to comment, on any issue related to the school district.

Current state law mandates that all meetings of a municipal governing body provide a period of time for the public to comment, and Ms. Spencer’s bill mirrors that language and applies it to a municipality’s Board of Education.

The measure was released from the committee unanimously this week, and now Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts will decide when to put it to vote.

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