Audience comment has no place at end of agenda

We get it, Kevin.

We agree it’s inconsiderate — bordering on rude — for citizens to come to Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meetings, complain about something during public comment and leave.

And we know, board President Camden, that you have the authority to set the agenda.

But moving “audience communication” to the very end of school board meetings (item 21.1 on Sept. 24) is a disproportionate response to this discourteous behavior. At best, it reads like punishment for a misbehaving child. At worst it could be interpreted as a strategy to squelch public comment.

Eleven people spoke during public comment at the Sept. 10 meeting. (A rally to re-open schools that took place outside Central right before the meeting might have boosted attendance.) Two weeks later, after Camden said he was moving public comment to the end of the meeting, no members of the public were there to speak.

This isn’t the only restriction that is in place in District 86. The board has alloted a maximum of 30 minutes for public comment at each meeting, and residents must sign in at the beginning of the meeting in order to address the board.

So, at the Sept. 24 meeting, a person who wanted to speak would have had to arrive promptly at 6 p.m. to sign in and then wait more than two hours — until 8:10 p.m. — to speak. It’s no surprise the only comment was sent in via email.

Moving forward, we wonder what a resident should do if they want to offer input on a decision the board faces. Do they need to make sure they show up at the meeting two weeks before the vote will be taken, so they can share their thoughts at the end of that meeting?

Certainly public comments that are delivered thoughtfully by informed residents who have the benefit of listening to board deliberations on a regular basis are always appreciated. And if board members got more than a cursory “Thank you for your service” before having to listen to complaints about the lousy and unfair decisions they are making.

Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. People seem polarized on almost every issue, from the national level to the local one. Instead of trusting public officials to make the best decisions for everyone involved, many are focused on what they want and demand that public officials actions’ align with their desires.

And, like it or not, listening to these folks — not forcing them to sit through a meeting — is the job board members signed up for.

We hope Camden has made his point and will return “audience communication” to the beginning of the agenda, where it belongs. If he’s not inclined to do so, we hope his colleagues will help change his mind.