MANKATO – Speakers will no longer have to publicly share their full address when addressing the Mankato School Board.
At a workshop meeting on Monday, board members agreed to permanently eliminate the long-standing requirement that has become a national controversy. They also talked about launching listening sessions or another opportunity for citizens to share their opinions with board members.
Many school boards and city councils across the state require citizens to provide their address before speaking at public meetings. Board chair Jodi Sapp said addresses have been a requirement for as long as she has been a member of the board, although this has not always been strictly enforced.
But the pre-existing address requirement and some new limitations on the board’s public comment period have caught the attention of domestic conservative media.
In front of a crowd of people standing at last week’s board meeting, Sapp announced that she would put the address requirement on hold pending further conversation with her fellow board members.
Council members discussed addresses and other ideas for continued changes to public contribution opportunities on Monday.
There was consensus that full mailing addresses do not need to be shared with the general public. The change comes after some speakers expressed security concerns if their address became public.
Speakers will continue to be invited to share the city in which they reside. Council members agreed that they always want to know if a speaker lives in a district.
“It’s important for the board to understand whether or not we’re hearing from constituents or someone outside the community we represent,” said Darren Wacker, Board Member.
Speakers will always be invited to share their full address and other contact information on a written form. Board members said they typically don’t review these forms before meetings, but sometimes a district representative will contact a speaker afterwards to answer a question.
Board members do not respond to questions or complaints during board meetings.
Board member Erin Roberts said she often hears from people who think the board is not paying attention because they are not responding. She suggested educating the public more about how listening is the purpose of these forums.
Board member Kristi Schuck suggested they make an effort to educate voters on how they can contact them by phone or email or request a one-on-one meeting.
“There are other ways besides the open forum to make their voices heard,” she said.
Schuck proposed that they also consider holding periodic “listening sessions” as some other councils have implemented. Less formal sessions are not recorded and board members can answer questions. Board members discussed whether to hold them before board meetings or go to a different school each time. They decided to do some research on what the other boards do and aim to start the sessions after the New Year.
Council members also agreed that they should maintain a new restriction that speakers can only speak on items on the council agenda. The limitation is necessary to curb “political demagoguery,” Sapp said.
“We’re going to refocus the conversation on what we’re meant to be here for: educating our children,” she said.
The board’s discussion of its open forum procedures followed a closed-door meeting for a “discussion on buying real or personal property.” Public entities are allowed to close meetings to discuss possible real estate transactions.
This fall, a district survey, which asked residents if they would support higher taxes to help with construction projects, listed buying land for a new elementary school as a possibility.