Letter: School board by-laws flouted
Published 7:33 am, Saturday, July 18, 2015
According to Section 6-8560 of the Fairfield Board of Education by-laws, public comment is allowable on any agenda topic. Most recently, Chairman Dwyer proposed and voted to change the wording of this by-law from allowing public comment on any matter, whether or not the topic was listed on the school’s board agenda, to ONLY permitting public comment on matters listed on the board agenda (an agenda which he sets), regardless of whether it is to be voted upon.
At the June 23 BOE meeting, Chairman Dwyer ruled in direct contradiction to his very own proposed by-law, when a member of the public asked to speak at public comment about inaccurate “board minutes,” a topic on the agenda to be discussed and voted. Dwyer stated that public comment is not allowed on administrative matters, even though the “board minutes” were agenda topics. His ruling was based on his perception of past practices. When asked by a fellow board member if past practice is policy, Chairman Dwyer chose not to respond. Instead he commented that, “My ruling is based on past practices and that is my ruling.”
According to Article IV of the Fairfield BOE by-laws, the formal adoption of by-law policy shall be recorded in the minutes of the board, and only those written statements so adopted and so recorded shall be regarded as official board policy. Should Chairman Dwyer’s selective use of past practice supersede a board by-law policy that was voted on by a majority of the board? Additionally, why did some board members respect and speak in favor of Chairman Dwyer’s ruling rather than take guidance from the by-law that governs the board’s internal operations?
Chairman Dwyer stated that as chair, he is permitted to limit public comment in any manner appropriate to orderly and efficiently conduct the board meeting. As one board member pointed out, his ruling actually “created a lack of order and inefficiencies.” Another board member acknowledged that time spent discussing the chair’s ruling took longer than allowing the person to speak for three minutes.
By-laws are rules established by boards to govern actions of its members. Past practice refers to practice recognized and accepted when language is ambiguous or contradictory. There is nothing ambiguous or contradictory about the by-law, and if there were, then amendments to the by-law should have been made when Chair Dwyer proposed changes to this by-law. The by-law does not distinguish which items on the agenda are not for public comment; it is black and white with no shades of grey. To quote Dali Lama, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” It seems that Chair Dwyer has once again found ways around the policies when convenient, (and unfortunately, some board members support his approach of governing).
Isn’t it ironic that with the lack of transparency in the board minutes, FairTV has eliminated 2013 board meetings, yet many sports and PTA events are listed as far back as 2011? So, space must not be an issue.