NEW HAVEN – The East Allen County Schools board said it might consider changing procedures for public comment after an emotional exchange with a resident who asked a question during Tuesdays meeting.
During an otherwise uneventful meeting, resident Beth Will asked board members several questions about the districts redesign approach and brought up concerns about some board members working for schools outside the district.
In the middle of her prepared remarks, board member Terry Jo Lightfoot, who later admitted to being upset by the questions, told Will that it was not the boards policy to respond to questions during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Later, Will said she was not happy with the way she was treated during the exchange.
Near the end of the meeting, Lightfoot and several board members apologized to Will for cutting her off and said that the problem was partly the result of an inconsistent board policy on public comment.
For years, the board allowed individuals to address the entire board during the public comment section of meetings. But it changed its approach during talks about the districts redesign, allowing board members to split apart during the public comment portion of the meeting so they could have a conversation with small groups of constituents.
While some residents liked the approach, feeling as if it gave them more access to board members, others, like Will, said it seemed more of a divide and conquer tactic.
Several board members said the exchange with Will made them think it was time to discuss how to handle the public comment part of their meetings. Board member Janice Witte said the board needed to adopt a policy that would treat everyone fairly, and board member Stephen Terry said it was important to give everyone a chance to be heard, even if what they were saying was uncomfortable to hear.
In her prepared remarks, Will said that Terry had signed a conflict of interest form saying that he worked for a local charter school and asked whether another board member, Bill Hartman, had done the same regarding his role as lead administrator at Blackhawk Christian School.
Hartman said he was always open about his position and that he would always abstain from any vote regarding his school.
The board approved several staff appointments.
Doug Pickett, assistant principal of New Haven Middle School, will become principal of New Haven Middle School.
David Myers, a teacher at New Haven High School, will become athletic director at New Haven High School.
Patricia Meadows, athletic director at New Haven High School, will become assistant principal at New Haven High School.