It’s common that citizens who disagree with governmental agencies — especially the Wichita school board — are told that they have the wrong information, or that they simply don’t understand the complexities of running government.
A few years ago when board members dismissed the input of an elected official because he disagreed with the board, I wrote in my coverage: “Certainly these three board members were dismissive of Chappell and his input. This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.”
The balance of power at meetings like these is all in favor of the board. Citizens may speak for a short period of time. Then board members may speak at length without fear of being held accountable for their remarks, because if the citizen were to speak even one word out of turn, the board would shut them up.
When she was board president and citizens disagreed with action the board was considering, Arnold admonished the audience: “This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”
If a citizen should want to address the board, they’ll receive a stern reminder of the time limit for speaking. This is at a school district where much board meeting time is devoted to “feel good” measures. We’ll probably see this soon as two board members end their terms. Two years ago, while strictly regulating the time of an elected official to address the board, the board found time in the same meeting to make a lengthy “goodbye” to departing board member Kevass Harding. That had nothing to do with public policy. It was constructive in no way except to board members, district staff, and Harding’s ego. By the way, he used the opportunity and time to announce his future political ambitions.
But when citizens and even elected officials and community leaders speak — even though they may speak about important and weighty matters of policy — their time is strictly regulated. If they disagree with school district orthodoxy they may be scolded and lectured with no chance to defend themselves or rebut false statements and nonsensical arguments from board members or district staff. There is nothing resembling discussion or debate except among board members and district staff — all who drink from the same ideological fountain.