D86 Board Considers Steps to Encourage Civility at Meetings

An incident in the audience at the board's Dec. 12 meeting prompted a review of protocol.

Passions sometimes run high at Board of Education meetings and Board President Dennis Brennan sought at Monday night’s meeting at to ensure that those passions don’t run amok.

Brennan said his push to promote civility at meetings was prompted by an incident that occurred in the audience during the board’s last meeting Dec. 12 at .

“At the last meeting, we had one of the residents stand up and tell us there was apparently some kind of threat in the audience,” Brennan said. “I know our meetings have become exciting to some extent. People want to give their opinion.”

Brennan said there are two opportunities for audience members to address the board at every meeting—at the beginning and at the end. Hinsdale resident Linda Burke took advantage of the opportunity to speak at the end of the last meeting to report that a person in the audience had shoved her.

“All of us have a responsibility, so that these meetings don’t break down into threats,” Brennan said. “I have asked the superintendent to look into the idea of security, although we don’t want to be spending money on security. At least the board hasn’t talked about that. I’d hate to think it comes to that.”

Brennan suggested the behavior of board members actually might contribute to unruly behavior in the audience.

“I’m as guilty as anyone of losing my temper, both with people who might come in to speak to us or that might be on the board discussing something with me,” he said. “I do think we have to get away from that. It just riles up everybody.”

Board member Dianne Barrett asked Burke to again explain what happened in December.

“The gentlemen behind me actually shoved me in the back with some force,” Burke said. “I thought that was really inappropriate and that someone should call him on it.”

Burke said the shoving followed her attempts to get some audience members to be quiet during the meeting so she could hear.

Barrett said she was out of the room at the time and did not witness the incident. She questioned why Brennan thought the behavior of board members “encouraged or invited” such behavior.

“I think if we don’t act civilly, it’s hard to tell everyone in the audience to act civilly,” Brennan said.

“That’s your opinion,” Barrett said. “I think this is a lively democratic group of people who have different opinions, and that’s what boards do.”

Board member Kay Gallo said she doesn't mind being heckled by audience members.

“But when it was neighbor pushing neighbor, that was a little bit uncalled for,” Gallo said.

Gallo suggested that Brennan make a statement at the beginning of each meeting going over the expectations for conduct by audience members, including silencing cell phones and noting their two opportunities to speak to the board.

Robert’s Rules or Common Sense?

Brennan distributed to board members some guidelines from Robert’s Rules of Order on the conduct of meetings.

“We’re here to conduct business,” he said. “I think the people that put us here are actually expecting us to conduct it with some decorum and to not turn this into the old Friday Night Fights or World Wrestling.”

Discussion ensued among board members as to the extent to which the board was going to follow Robert’s Rules. Board member Richard Skoda said the guidelines handed out by Brennan called on members to rise to be recognized and he made a point to stand up while speaking during much of the meeting.

Skoda and Barrett said if the board was going to follow Robert’s Rules, then every meeting agenda should contain items for old business and new business.

“If we’re going to follow it, either we do it all the way or we don’t,” Barrett said.

“I disagree with that,” board member DeeDee Gorgol said. “I think they’re guidelines. You don’t have to follow them to the T, 100 percent, word for word.”

Hinsdale resident Bruce Davidson, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the school board in 2011 on a slate with Skoda and Claudia Manley, addressed the board on the issue during the meeting's second audience communication.

“I’d like to advocate maybe instead of Robert’s Rules, the words common sense,” Davidson said.

He said he thought Brennan did a pretty good job of using common sense to conduct the meetings.

The board will revisit the topic at a future meeting.

Steve Woodward January 10, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The source of the uncivil discourse begins at the board table. Anyone who has attended even one meeting knows that. The local media rarely reports it.
chet everett January 10, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Too often the reason for the lack of civil discourse begins with a basic disconnect -- whether it is the various members of the BOE or concerned citizens or parents / students that want to maximize the value of their education the priorties of the "cut taxes" crowd are so at odds at with the those who seem oblivious to desires of others within the broader community -- that hostility is met with both reflexive defensiveness and the BOE's retreat from the ideal of openness. It shocks and bewilders me that there was (is ?) enough support for a candidate that attended NONE of the voter forums prior to the election managed to gain a seat on the BOE. The sort of constant one-note penny pinching that comes from certain corners belies the fact that a majority of residents in the area served by D86 choose to live here specifically for the superior repuatation of the schools. That so basic a point is often either overlooked or somehow minimized sets up a divide so deep as be all but unbridgeable. What is needed is not more "formalism" but a better and more complete disclosure / debate of the immeadiate and long term trade offs that come from decisions of the BOE...


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