EASLEY — The School District of Pickens County board of trustees has taken some heat from the public lately about not allowing members of the audience to speak — especially at called meetings — but what it boils down to is board policy.
“You have 10 meetings per year, and those meetings prescribe to a very specific agenda,” Vice Chairman Jim Shelton explained. “And there’s a line item in the agenda that says public input. We have to advertise that each year, by law, to tell the public what our meetings are going to be for the next fiscal year.”
The board is regulated closely by state legislation but one item not required is a public input forum when it comes to regulations. Pickens County’s board is required to set the regularly scheduled meeting schedule for the year, a total of 10 meetings minus July and December.
Each of those meetings must meet line item requirements as it pertains to business, but the board includes a public forum line item for each of those scheduled meetings.
But what about called meetings, when the board discusses business outside the scope of the regular 10 meeting schedule?
“It’s usually one or two items during the month,” Chairman Alex Saitta said. “We just need to get together, get the information to the superintendent so she can work on it and get it ready for a meeting. And when it gets to that meeting, you can have public input. Some of these items require two readings, so there’s opportunity.”
As for called meetings the opportunity for public input is judged on an individual basis.
“If we’re going to vote on something critical,” Saitta said, “we’re going to hear input.”
Jim Shelton said he is a supporter of taking each called meeting individually.
“In my opinion, public input ought to be on a case by case basis,” he explained. “I will never advocate changing the policy so that every meeting has public input. I think the board’s discretion in the past has been pretty good.”
There might be a public misperception to overcome concerning the availability of a public forum.
“If people come in on the tail end, they’re going to think this is a short process,” Saitta said. “They’re going to ask where the dissemination is, or where’s the public input, when that was throughout a months-long process.”
Saitta and Shelton stressed they would always listen to requests for a public forum for called meetings and recommended the public contact any board member with their requests.