MARIETTA — Without discussion and by a narrow margin, the Cobb school board on Thursday afternoon struck down board member Jaha Howard’s call for names of speakers and subject of public comment to be included in the board’s official minutes.
Howard’s motion to place the discussion item on the evening’s voting session agenda was defeated, 3-4. Board members Charisse Davis and David Morgan joined Howard in favor, and board members David Banks and Randy Scamihorn, as well as chairman David Chastain and vice chairman Brad Wheeler voted in opposition.
Howard said the vote was disappointing as the district emphasizes engagement of parents and families in the activities of the schools.
“There are some of us on the board that stand for transparency and for participation with the community as stakeholders in this process. And obviously, we have others who are not for that,” he said. “Hopefully at some time in the future, we’ll be able to open up a level of transparency to have these very important comments from our citizens recorded.”
Board member Randy Scamihorn and others on the board have questioned the reason for Howard’s proposal. Scamihorn said the meetings are already broadcast on a public access channel and made available online on YouTube, and inclusion of the public comment in those recordings is not required. The school board is already transparent with its citizens, he said.
Richard Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said public comments and concerns from any public meeting should be included in as many forms as possible to make them as accessible to as many people as possible.
“Any time there’s a record of what transpires at a board meeting, it’s better for the public,” he said. “If the comment topics are recorded in the minutes, that’s great, because 20 years or 50 years from now there will be a historic record of those things.”
Griffiths said the Cobb school board’s move, and discussion of also removing public comment from the board’s video broadcasting, is concerning for a body of elected officials who are charged with representing the public.
“I think this is all about respect for the public,” he said. “Ultimately, public officials serve the public — serve the people who are concerned enough to leave work early to come down and talk about the issue that is on their mind. For them to not even capture that basic data in the minutes seems kind of weird. Why would you (disrespect) the very people you’re supposed to be serving?”
If community members work during the day or in the evening when government meetings take place, often their only chance to find out what happened in the meeting is to watch a recording or to read the meeting minutes.
“It’s all about transparency. It’s all about the public being able to see what happens there. ... Any time the public can be served with a complete record, it is better for democracy, better for the public’s participation,” he said. “I just don’t see any reason why they couldn’t do both.”
Howard said the issue is one he believes to be “true and right,” and vowed, “We’ll see it again.”