Wake board reconsiders limits on public comments

Staff writerMay 4, 2010 

As the Wake County School Board meeting gets underway, Diana Starling, of Raleigh, goes over her speaking notes. She arrived at 1 p.m. for the 3 p.m. meeting and was the first on a list of only 16 people signed up to speak. It is in stark contrast to the large, standing-room-only meetings in the past. She is in support of community schools but is frustrated in the board's failure to acknowledge the lack of honesty of information to the public.

COREY LOWENSTEIN - CLOWENST@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— Members of the Wake County school board appeared during a committee meeting today to back away from a resolution that would have told speakers during public comment periods that they "must refrain" from personal attacks and insults against the board and others.

Even though the measure also encouraged speakers to comment on or criticize the board's actions or ideas, several members objected on First Amendment grounds to restricting their subject matter. Members who often disagree on other topics took the same free-speech stance against more restrictive language restricting personal comments proposed by board member Debra Goldman.

"They can make personal references --- and I'm all about it," said member John Tedesco. "I really don't care."

Member Keith Sutton, on the opposite from Tedesco on many votes, agreed. He also noted a letter they board received today from the North Carolina Open Government Coalition calling for the policy's requirement that speakers refrain from personal comments be changed to a request.

"I think the bottom line here is talking about the right of free speech," Sutton said. "We can't control that or obstruct that in any way."

Speaking in favor of the tougher language, Goldman said areas such as a board member's lifestyle or family should be out of bounds. But board member Chris Malone, also usually the same side as Goldman in votes, said getting forthright comments from the public should be paramount.

"I think we should encourage of them, and they should demand of themselves, decorum," Malone said.

The item will be revisited during the 3 p.m. meeting with the participation of board attorney Ann Majestic, who is not present at this afternoon's meeting.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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