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School board ponders comment time change

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CLEARWATER — People who want to voice their opinions during Pinellas County School Board meetings next year may have to wait until the end.

Board members at their last workshop meeting discussed switching the time allotted for public comments from the beginning of their meetings to the end, saying the move would be a more efficient use of time.

It would prevent speakers at the beginning of the meeting from “setting a tone that’s kind of downhill from there,” board member Rene Flowers said.

Currently, people may sign up to speak for three minutes about issues that aren’t on the day’s agenda a half- hour before the board meeting begins. Those who want to speak about something on the agenda may do so at the beginning of the regular meeting. Moving the general comments to the end would create a “much more effective use of time and a better flow for the meeting,” said Mary Beth Corace, director of strategic planning and policy.

It also means, however, people may have to wait hours for the end of the meeting to speak.

Flowers said that inconvenience should be a concern.

“I don’t think it should be at the very end, because that means if I’m not a school board member I’m going to have to come and sit all day and try to judge how long the meeting is going to take,” Flowers said. “They’re going to have to take the day off work if we start in the morning and then sit there until we finish ... or it could be a really short meeting and some people don’t have reliable transportation.”

But board members argued that the number of people effected by the move may be outnumbered by those who would benefit from it. Public comments always came at the end of the meeting, but board members decided to move them to the beginning this year to see if it would encourage more people to show up. But they found most public comments concern a specific agenda item, and the number of general comments and participation changed little.

“I thought we were definitely going to get more people at the beginning of the meeting because there was a set time for them to show up, but we really haven’t seen any more people wanting to speak,” board member Peggy O’Shea said. “Then, there are always some that can’t get there by the start of the meeting and ask to talk later anyway, so I think moving the comments would be a good thing.”

The School Board will discuss the move at their meeting on Jan. 14.

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