I attended the Library Board meeting back on 4/26/22. After the issues with the last two meetings, I was finally on the agenda to speak at Public Forum. I’ll put the text of what I prepared below, which gives a lot of the background of what happened at the last two meetings. I didn’t give this verbatim for time reasons. As I probably should have expected, the Chair was very strict with the 3 minute time limit for my comments. The guidelines would have allowed for a vote to give me more time, but they didn’t have a quorum to vote for anything, so I guess that wouldn’t have been possible. In fact, the crowd was 5 (4 voting members which is one short of a quorum), plus me.
The big problem with this meeting, which I may try and address at City Council and/or County Commission is that the Nominating Committee met a week prior to this. The only notice about that meeting was a print out of a calendar that was posted on the bulletin board at the library. I would have attended if I knew about it. Anyway, at the Nominating Committee meeting, it seems like they settled on new members for the Board of Trustees. They went over that at this meeting, but couldn’t vote on it since they didn’t have a quorum. I’m going to be on watch to see if they try and submit those names to Council or Commission for approval even though they weren’t approved by the Board.
Public Forum for Library
As you may know, I am the Chair of the Hamblen County Democrats. I’m also running for office. But, separate and apart from that, after the first of the year, I started attending Board and Committee meetings in Hamblen County and Morristown to get to know more about the community and people who lead it.
At most of the meetings, like it was here, I was the only member of the public in attendance.
Sometimes I am ignored. Sometimes the Board members are over the top friendly and go out of their way to chat with me and ask me if I had any questions.
Curiously, though, the only meeting where I have been both ignored AND treated like the enemy was here at the last two meetings.
I came to the meeting two months ago, just coincidentally at the same time as the Election commission. I suspect the Board thought I was here with them and it threw you for a loop when I did not leave with the Election Commissioners. I was asked to leave and said no. My reasoning for saying no is that I believe this is a public meeting and one of the things I am trying to do with attending meetings like these is to exercise the right of the public to attend. Not exactly very sunshine-y to ask the public to leave a public meeting. When a member suggested that there might be a way to getting me to leave by putting it in “Executive session” or something like that, Mr. Tilson, to his credit, said no to that.
So I stayed. And it was awkward. And it was unfair to the woman who was here to address the Board about her pending termination.
After that meeting, I resolved to speak at the next meeting. I had seen that you have a public comment section on your agenda. I’ve done public comment many times at public meetings. I wanted to come in and say how awkward it was and that, if your bylaws require that process to happen in the public meeting, then you should amend your bylaws to make sure that, in the future, people don’t have to go through what that woman did in February.
I probably also would have pointed out the part of the story how Steve Lawrence and I walked in early before that meeting and Ms. Senter and one or two other women asked us to leave. That was clearly because they were discussing the situation with the woman as part of the Personnel committee I think. My position then and now would be that, unless and until you amend your bylaws, that discussion should have been open to the public.
So, I showed up at the March meeting and the Chair asked about public comment. I said yes I’d like to speak, but wasn’t sure which part I should speak at. The Chair said speak now, but then Mr. Tilson interrupted and said I should have followed the process for speaking at the Board meeting. There was a form I would need to fill out and I would need to submit it in advance of the next meeting.
During that meeting, I checked the Library website to find the form. It was not there. It was hard to navigate on my phone at the meeting, so I went home after the meeting and pulled the website up on my desktop computer. I still didn’t find the form, but did see that your bylaws are there. And they still are. And they say, in Article VII: Any person who wishes to speak during Public Comment should sign in at the meeting, indicating that they wish to be heard, and the Chair must first recognize the speaker. Should the request to speak be granted, the Chair may limit the time for presentation.
Now, I didn’t try to sign in anywhere, because, like I said, I’ve done public forum before and the public is usually asked if they want to speak. Which is what happened until Mr. Tilson stepped in. Of course the problem with Mr. Tilson’s objection is that the process and form for speaking at public forum was nowhere to be found on the website. Neither was the agenda. If a person wanted to come to the meeting and speak, all they had to go on was Article VII of your bylaws, which said come to the meeting and sign up.
Now, to be clear, I didn’t sign up. I don’t even know if there was a sign up sheet last month. But, when the Chair offered to let me speak, I should not have been denied on the basis of not having submitted a request in writing by noon the day before the meeting. Those instructions were not on the website at that time. I understand maybe the site was hacked and so that might be the reason they weren’t there. Fine, but even if they were there, that’s not how your bylaws say the process works.
But fine, water under the bridge. Anyway, I went to the Library on Friday around noon. I was going to look for a copy of the agenda on the bulletin board, like it says in the “Public Comment Guidelines for Library Board of Trustees.” That wasn’t there, but what I did see was that I missed a meeting on April 12 of the nominating committee, which frustrates me for the same reason. Is that meeting supposed to be open to the public? I guess so, since it was on a calendar on the bulletin board. Certainly an agenda of that meeting was not posted on the website.
My position is that all meetings of the Board, including its committees should be open to the public. And should be publicized so that the public can attend if they wish to.
And you’re doing a terrible job of that.
You’ve got this one page of guidelines, which looks very similar to the County Commission guidelines. These might also be the City Council guidelines too, although, Ms. Senter can probably answer that question better than I can. You’ve got bylaws which have information about how to interact with the public. You’re set requirements for yourself to announce things to the public. I don’t know the history of why this Board thought all of that stuff was necessary. But here’s how it looks. Feel free to come to our open meeting. But if you actually want to address us or ask us questions, you must follow all of these steps, or you will not be allowed to speak.
Or you could, you know, just try to engage the public and see what they think. Listen to their questions and concerns.
It’s a mindset that I’ve seen in the elected bodies around here – City Council, County Commission, School Board. It’s too bad that you’re acting the same way as those bodies.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing the results of the Nominating Committee meeting because, seemingly, that’s going to include names of people that you’ll submit to Commission or Council for nomination onto the Board.