OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Oswego school board president Sam Tripp said he doesn’t really know why board member Fran Hoefer went to the Middletown school board meeting.
“Whether it was to confront (former Oswego superintendent Dr. Kenneth Eastwood) or show support for a Middleton board member, I just don’t know,” Tripp said. “That’s between Dr. Eastwood and him.”
Hoefer’s actions were in no way sanctioned by the Oswego board, Tripp pointed out.
“He went on his own. He didn’t represent us, not the school board, not the district. That was just Fran doing what he felt he had to do,” Tripp said.
When school board president Will Geiger refused to let Hoefer speak at last week’s Middletown meeting, he violated the spirit of the Open Meetings Law, according to Bob Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government.
As Hoefer attempted to speak at the Middletown meeting, Dr. Eastwood passed a note to the board president telling him who Hoefer was. It was then the board president told Hoefer he couldn’t speak.
Eastwood said he believes Geiger was simply trying to protect him and the board and community from negativity generated by the board minority.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I had an idea of what (Hoefer) would say,Ã¢â‚¬Â Eastwood said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know what he had done to my family in the past. Most of what he says is not true.Ã¢â‚¬Â
While in Middletown, Hoefer “reiterated the same charges he made five years ago and they were found to be baseless and false,” Dr. Eastwood told Oswego County Today. Hoefer was removed from the Oswego board and his appeal was denied by the NYS Education Commissioner. He was re-elected last year.
“I don’t know if we have anything like that in our policy. To tell the truth, I never even thought about it until all this came up,” Tripp told Oswego County Today. “I am going to look into it and see if we have any kind of policy regarding speaking at the public session. As far as I’m concerned, let the people speak. That is their right.”
According to Bill Foley, district clerk, there isn’t.
The board meetings are held in public and the public is encouraged to attend and express its opinions. There are time limits imposed to allow everyone an equal chance to be heard by the board.
Members of the community are provided the opportunity to address the board, the policy says.
However, Foley noted that ‘community’ isn’t specifically defined.
It could mean just members of the school district, or the community in general, he said.
“I just don’t understand why Fran feels he has to stick his nose in some other district’s business. We have enough going on up here right now with the budget and everything else,” Tripp said. “He should be more focused on what’s happening in our own district.”
“Our board policy speaks to everyone being afforded an opportunity to speak,” Fulton School Superintendent Bill Lynch said. “We encourage the community to attend meetings and speak on district issues.”
The public session is open to everybody, he said. It isn’t just limited to members of the Fulton community.
Speakers have the opportunity to address the board at the start of the meeting on any matter of district business, Lynch said.
And then, near the conclusion of the meeting, the public has a second opportunity.
“Near the close of each meeting, there is a chance for people to speak. It’s a public forum where they can respond to anything from that evening’s meeting,” the superintendent said.
While they want to encourage people to share their opinions with the board, speakers are held to a time limit, Lynch pointed out.
“You want to hear from the community. You want to give everyone a chance to speak,” he said. “However, we do have a time limit, in order to give as many speakers as possible the opportunity to talk.”
The same holds true in the Hannibal School District.
“Anyone who wants to speak can,” said Mike DiFabio, Hannibal’s superintendent. “We don’t turn anyone away; we allow everyone to come and say their peace.
Like the other districts, Hannibal also sets a time limit on the speakers, especially if there are a lot, to allow everyone time to talk, DiFabio noted.
In all of the districts, speakers have to fill out a sign up sheet with their names, addresses and (usually) topics. Then they are called to the podium according to the list.
The Oswego Common Council operates under similar protocols, Mayor Randy Bateman said.
“We allow everyone to speak,” he said. “As long as they abide by the rules (including no profanity and no personal attacks), they can speak their peace. Of course, we encourage civility, which doesn’t always happen.”
A large number of municipalities limit speakers to just what’s on the agenda for that meeting, he added.
“The city has always been (speakers) before the meeting,” the mayor said. “That provides an opportunity for a speaker to possibly sway how a councilor might vote on something.”