Resident trying to get Unified School Board to talk back to citizens comments
Don’t get him wrong. Kunich isn’t trying to incite rudeness against regular folks speaking their minds. But he would like to see the board restore the give and take they used to engage in with residents at meetings.
Kunich is hoping people who agree with his stand will attend Tuesday night’s Schol Board meeting.
Here areKunich’s answers to some questions we asked him about this issue:
KenoWi: What are you looking for the school board to do on comments?
Kunich: ” The school board always had board comments immediately following citizen comments, where all board members had the opportunity to respond to any concerns, complaints or comments made at the podium. They did this for years, but stopped in July permanently. They had stopped this one time before when I was a Kenosha News reporter and they told me it’s because legally they were no longer allowed to comment on something that wasn’t on the agenda. I proved to them — in a story — that this was not true. In fact, J.B. Van Hollen says on Page 14 of his open meetings guidelines that board members don’t have to comment, but they can, and the law should be applied liberally. They should not get into extensive debate about something not on the agenda, but they should be able to answer concerns.”
KenoWi: Why is the back and forth important? Doesn’t it make for unruly meetings?
Kunich:”Because it holds them accountable and people can get immediate answers, or at least know how board members feel, or if they care at all. It’s not unruly. It’s very organized. Every citizen gets three minutes to speak (and they still do). At the end of that, each board member has up to five minutes to respond. They usually did not take the full five minutes. One side speaks, then the other speaks. It holds the board accountable. When board member Carl Bryan was in high school, he demanded answers about the failed CDO investment that lost $37.5 million, and he got answers immediately. His actions forced the board to acknowledge there were concerns. As a direct result, two people on the board who orchestrated this did not get re-elected. Now, Carl Bryan and others appear to be against re-allowing board comments, denying citizens the very right he had that helped get elected.”
KenoWi: What have you been told is the reason for the new policy?
Kunich: “Initially, I was told again that legally they could not do this, until I showed them the guidelines that said they could speak. Then I was told because some board members used this time to bully other members. Then I was told it was to streamline the meetings and make the board more harmonious because, allegedly, studies show a more harmonious board leads to a better performing district. So, which is it? I never saw a board member bully another at this time. I saw people getting answers to questions. Public accountability should trump all other ridiculous reasons given for canceling board comments. Besides, the district bragged for years that they were so superb while there were board comments, so why wasn’t it a problem then? And even if it shows board members disagree, shouldn’t we, the public, have a right to see that? While they may not have a legal obligation to do this, they certainly have a civic, ethical and moral obligation to do it.”
KenoWi: You’ve seen a lot school board meetings? (Kunich used to cover the KUSD as a Kenosha News reporter) Was the old policy/practice a problem ever?
Kunich: “Never a problem. Yes, board meetings did sometimes run long, but the public has a right to know what board members are thinking, and they have an obligation to speak publicly. If they will speak privately on an issue, but not publicly, they are cowardly hiding behind their positions. It was never an issue.”
KenoWi: How are you trying to mass support for your position?
Kunich: “It’s a work in progress, because a lot of people don’t get involved in local politics, but they should. These people are responsible for a $354 million budget, and the levy increased 8.74 percent, when the average Milwaukee school levy increased 2.68 percent. People should be outraged, demand answers and hold people accountable. I am trying to get people to write e-mails to the board. I will try to get people to show up, but probably won’t get many this first time. The meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday and I just want people to show up and tell the board they want board comments back. It’s a simple matter of democracy. I’ve got at least one letter, and 11 people who have agreed with me and I will present this. It’s a small number, but usually no one speaks up. To get 12 who will stand up and tell the board, “You are wrong,” is a big step. I plan on writing to the Kenosha Democratic Party and the Republican Party to urge their supporters show up. This is not about partisan politics. This is something we can all agree on. It’s not a right issue, or a left issue, it is simply an issue that is the right thing to do!”