No muzzles at public meetings
Berkeley County School Board members might find their work more pleasant if they could simply dismiss anyone who disagrees with them.
They could raise taxes without a fuss, change policy without input from skeptical educators and give the superintendent a bonus without considering his weak points.
It might be more pleasant for them, but it would be a disaster for taxpayers.
Despite supreme confidence in its own opinions, the board might make better decisions after hearing different viewpoints.
And, beyond that, any public board represents citizens and is obligated to hear what they have to say.
So it was not just short-sighted for the Berkeley County School Board to muzzle Terry Hardesty, it was against the law.
The fact is, the board sees Mr. Hardesty, a former board member, as the enemy. He is in the thick of allegations that led the state to its ongoing investigation of the district. The probe is to determine if officials illegally used staff time and resources to promote last year’s bond referendum campaign.
Mr. Hardesty addressed the board on the issue during its previous two meetings. When he tried to do so at Tuesday’s meeting, board chairman Kent Murray called him out of order.
He later explained he did so “in order to protect the integrity of the Board’s decision-making process and ensure the ability to provide due process to our employees in the event that matters relating to or arising out of the investigation come before the Board for action.”
That’s puzzling, to say the least. If the board is to take action, we would expect members to be eager to hear from constituents before doing so. And if the perspective they hear is discomfiting, perhaps it’s even more worth hearing.
Besides, it’s the right of Mr. Hardesty — or any citizen, no matter his manner or message — to be heard. Almost always.
Certainly it is the prerogative of the board chairman to cut short a speaker who is profane or off-point or even too long-winded. The board deserves to be shown respect, and it has work to do beyond the public comment session.
But the Berkeley County School Board misstepped when it forebade a citizen his right to address a relevant topic.