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New Controversial Public Participation Rules Proposed

The Board listens as the public express their disdain with the newly proposed regulations on public speaking at BOE Meetings. (L to R) Assistant Superintendant Dr. Vivian Rodriguez, Vice President Israel Varela, President Sam Lebrealt, Newly Hired Superintendant Dr. David Roman, Board Member Obi Gonzalez and Board Attorney Isabel Machado.                                        *Photo by Katherine Massopust

The Board listens as the public express their disdain with the newly proposed regulations on public speaking at BOE Meetings. (L to R) Assistant Superintendant Dr. Vivian Rodriguez, Vice President Israel Varela, President Sam Lebrealt, Newly Hired Superintendant Dr. David Roman, Board Member Obi Gonzalez and Board Attorney Isabel Machado. *Photo by Katherine Massopust

7/23/15 Board of Education Meeting

By: Katherine Massopust

Stanley Sierakowski

Stanley Sierakowski

PERTH AMBOY – There was a First Reading of new controversial Public Portion rules at the 7/23/15 Board of Education Meeting. The proposal of these rules generated large amounts of controversy. At the 7/23/15 Meeting there was even a sign-up sheet already for perspective speakers from the public. The sheet asked for the speaker’s name and address (which is supposed to be spoken by the individual when he/she comes up to the mic to speak.) Some speakers refused to sign it.

Many of the public found these proposed rules to be restrictive and a violation of the Sunshine Laws. The new proposed restrictions are as follows as posted in the 7_23_15 Board of Education Meeting Agenda (to see in its entirety go to pp. 135-138):

1. A member of the public wishing to speak must sign-up 15 to 45 minutes prior to the start of the Board meeting by indicating his/her name, place of residence, and contact information on the designated form, which will be available at the meeting location an hour prior to the meeting. Additionally, members of the public who wish to speak at the board meeting can sign-up at the

Mel Knight

Mel Knight

District’s administration office from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. the day prior to a board meeting: provided it is a normal work day for the district administration offices.

2. A participant must be recognized by the presiding officer and must preface comments by an announcement of his/her name, place of residence, and group affiliation, if appropriate;

3. Each statement made by a participant shall be limited to three minutes’ duration.

4. No participant may speak more than once on the same topic until all others who wish to speak on that topic have been heard;

5. All statements shall be directed to the presiding officer; no participant may address or question Board members individually;

Sharon Hubberman

Sharon Hubberman

6. Members of the public are discouraged from speaking negatively about an employee or a student. The Board bears no responsibility for comments made by the public. Comments regarding employees or students cannot be legally responded to by the Board.

7. Comments made by the public may be responded to under “new business” or at subsequent meetings under “old business.”

8. The presiding officer may:

a. Interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant;

b. Request any individual to leave the meeting when that person does not observe reasonable decorum;

c. Request the assistance of law enforcement officers in the removal of a disorderly person when that person’s conduct interferes with the orderly progress of the meeting;

d. Call for a recess or an adjournment to another time when the lack of public decorum so interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting as to warrant such action; and

e. Waive these rules when necessary for the protection of privacy or the efficient administration of the Board’s business.

N.1.S.A 2C:33-8; N.J.S.A. 10:4-12; Revised 23 July 2015

During the public portion Resident Stanley Sierakowski brought up the fact that around three years ago the former Superintendent proposed similar restrictions on the public portion. The then President of the Board of Education Mark Carvajal shot it down. “People have to speak without any conditions. You’re trying to limit the public’s right to speak. I’m not going to sign in. I’ll determine what’s said. This is America. Things just don’t fall out of the sky. The Board of Education in Jersey City tried to do something like it. The Board of Education withdrew. The idea was off the wall.”

Resident Mel Knight spoke very strongly against these restrictions, “It’s not fair to limit my ability to speak. I’m praying you give your due diligence.”

Resident and Business Owner Sharon Hubberman stated, “I find the particulars – the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours limiting whether it’s their opinion or others that can’t be here. There’s an area (in the Sunshine Laws) stating that the public has the right to speak, depending on various issues. There may be one particular issue that I may want to talk about. I find it limits the public. I’m here to defend freedom of expression – engaging the public in both the positive and the negative. This is America. It’s very limiting, especially for new members of the community. Please listen to our feedback. I know you want to engage people.”

During the Council Comments, Board Member Obi Gonzalez stated, “This is a first reading. We gather community input. Meetings are going to take place.”

Newly hired Superintendent David Roman stated his feelings, “We’ve heard a lot about that we want to limit the public. We believe in due diligence.”

Board Member Ken Puccio stated, “I want to go on the record right now: This is the United States of America. We cannot limit people’s coming up to the microphone. I personally would be offended. As to what I read in that policy. We get a lot of money (in the budget) and not all of it is from the City.”

Board President Sam Lebreault said, “We serve the public. We are fighting for your rights. If you took it like that, then it wasn’t our intention. Based on input, the policy will get looked at.”

Board Vice President Israel Varela said, “We are here as a Public School System. It is my responsibility as an elected official that you get the best. You do have the right to voice your opinion.”

The “Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act,” also known as the Sunshine Law (found at https://www.njsba.org/legal_02/opma2010.pdf) states that it is the right of the public to be informed when and where public meetings take place.

Board Member Jose Rodriguez was not present due to a death in the family. Board Member William Ortiz attended the beginning of the Meeting, but left early. Board Member Anthony Bermudez came in  a little after the Meeting was in progress. The next Board of Education Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 20 at Perth Amboy High School.

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