In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards. – Mark Twain
Threatening to vote someone off the school board is like threatening to stop beating them with a two by four! – Jeff Ward
The original plan was to write about the expiring eviction moratorium and the vast American entitlement mentality that would suggest that landlords should eat those losses and default on their mortgages just so you can live rent free. But then I read the Chronicle’s Monday morning update, particularly the article entitled ‘St. Charles School Board reviewing guidelines for public participation at board meetings,’ and I was flippin’ floored. Loosely translated from the Latin, what that fine government gaggle is truly trying to say is, “We want you to shut the fuck up!”
In the race to the it’s-all-about-me bottom, the St. Charles and Geneva School Boards are clearly leading the way. And it all starts with Geneva School Board President Taylor Egan’s regular self-righteous and sanctimonious proclamations including, but not nearly limited to:
- Telling the parents that if they’d only stop sending repetitive emails and making the same public comments the Board could actually get some work done.
- Claiming that if parents would just shut up and listen, they’d realize that she and the Board are always right.
- Barring parents from attending a special Board meeting at which she claimed “all the stakeholders are here.”
- Telling parents to run against them if they don’t like what the Board is doing.
- Generally refusing to answer any constituent emails (until recently).
And just when you think Ms. Egan couldn’t possibly top herself, she does just that! That utterly beyond-the-pale effort consisted of her “encouraging” her 15-year-old daughter to speak on behalf of student mask wearing at a recent board meeting.
That’s Taylor Egan in a nutshell, folks! She’s totally tone deaf, completely self-absorbed, she believes she’s always right, and she has an amazing capacity to consistently make matters so much worse. Having your sophomore daughter get up and “extemporaneously” expound on the “benefits” of masks when you’re the School Board President is a form of political suicide that’s almost incomprehensible. It’s also a form of child abuse.
But as difficult as it might be to believe, the St. Charles School Board just proved they’re even worse when Board member Betsy McCabe actually had the nerve to say this at the most recent Policy Committee meeting:
The time that we do our work is at a board meeting if we wanted as a board to do a town hall – and please know that I’m not necessarily recommending that – that would look different. That would be a dialogue.
Really? That declaration belies a complete lack of understanding of how a board, or any governing body really works.
You see, the “work” is supposed to be done long before the meeting starts. That’s when board members thoroughly review the current meeting packet, discuss those issues with their peers, and try to line up votes if you have a strong feeling about a specific agenda item.
By the time you get to the board or city council meeting, it’s all over but the voting. Sure! Some folks like Geneva Alderman Craig Maladra are prone to making overly glorious narcissistic public pronouncements, but meetings are generally the place to make basic public statements, let the public have their say, and vote. It’s rare, but on occasion, the public commentary might just change a vote or two.
But if you’re waiting for the board meeting to truly consider an agenda item, then you’re not doing your job.
Of course, what Ms. McCabe is really saying is, “You’re making these meeting go on far too long with your incessant public commentary and we want it to stop!” And she isn’t “recommending” a town hall meeting because God forbid they should deign to have a dialog with the likes of you!
Then Board Member Carolyn Waibel dug an even deeper hole when she added:
If you’ve sent us an email, if you’ve sent us communication, we’ve seen it, we’ve read it. I know that a lot of our constituents feel that we are not reading them because someone from the board isn’t always responding.
Which begs the question, do our school board members ever consider what they’re about to say before they say it? Gee! I wonder why parents get upset and show up at meetings when they feel like they’re being completely ignored. And if board members don’t understand the basic concept of cause and effect, then what hope is there for their young charges?
Not to be outdone, Board member Ed McNally piled on by trying to pass the buck when he said the “President or someone from the administration would be the best person to answer those emails.” He further complained that board members shouldn’t be making official statements in emails to constituents.
Thank you Captain Obvious!
How about this! For those emails that don’t require redirection to a specific school administrator, board members can take turns responding to each and every missive thusly, “Thank you for taking the time to send us your thoughts. Rest assured, as it is with everyone in the District, we will seriously consider your position as we face this and other challenges moving forward.”
And with cut and paste, whoever’s “on call” could respond to 100 emails in a scant 15 minutes. But no! The board would rather bitch about the rabble having the temerity to show up at THEIR meetings.
Let’s not forget about Board member and Policy Committee Chairman, Joseph Lackner, who added that he wanted to:
…bring back a draft [of a public speaking policy] that is both compliant with our policy and with our legal obligations, but also better reflects the board’s intention to hear the community talk and to listen to what it is they have to say.
Translated from the legalese that means, “We’re gonna to do our damndest to violate the Open Meetings Act by limiting your statutory right to speak because we really want to get home to watch ‘The Masked Singer.’
Well, let me save you all that time and effort Mr. Lackner. Though I know these rules by rote, this is straight from the Illinois Bar Association:
The public body may impose reasonable time, place, and manner regulations that are content neutral if those regulations are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. Id. Time limits on public comments are reasonable. See Wright v. Anthony, 733 F.2d 575, 577 (8th Cir. 1984) (Three minutes). Public comment limited only to the subjects on the agenda is reasonable. See White v. City of Norwalk, 900 F. 2d 1421, 1425 (9th Cir. 1990). Speakers can be stopped if the comment becomes irrelevant, repetitious, or disruptive. Id. at 1425-26. Public comment cannot be regulated when the motivating ideology, opinion, or perspective of the person is rationale for the regulation. See Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1985).
And it took me all of 20 seconds to come up with that!
To summarize, you can limit speakers to no less than three minutes, they don’t have to live in the district, and the Board can only stop a speaker if their comment becomes “irrelevant, repetitious, or disruptive.” Considering that we’re talking about a mere 180 seconds here, those speech stopping possibilities must be narrowly construed. And as the Kane County Board has done for years, you can ask speakers to provide their names and addresses and give the comment the appropriate weight.
Somehow, the Geneva and St. Charles School Boards have fully convinced themselves that you’re there to serve them instead of the all too obvious converse.
Here’s another thought! Maybe if you made COVID decisions based on science and evidence instead of abject fear and innuendo, you wouldn’t have to deal with the horror of hundreds of people showing up at your meetings.
But what really kills me is Taylor Egan and the St. Charles School Board have absolutely no compunction about saying all this stupid shit out loud. And we all thought the Cheeto Supreme was bad!
Per the second quote prefacing this piece, serving on a school board is a difficult and thankless task. But if you decide to do it, then you need to decide to do it. And if those Geneva and St. Charles School Board members can’t figure out this simple reality includes regular public commentary, then it’s time to step down in favor of someone who can.