Charleston school board cuts speaking time for public comment

Citizens with something to say to the Charleston County School Board will have to do it a little faster following a vote by the group to cut time for public comments.

The school board on Tuesday voted 6-2 to reduce the amount of time people can speak during the public comment period of board meetings from two minutes per person to one minute per person. Board members Michael Miller and the Rev. Chris Collins voted against the change. Board member the Rev. Eric Mack was absent from the meeting.

The group had been set to vote on a proposal that could have limited comments to 30 seconds per person depending on how many people signed up to speak during a meeting, but the board decided against that after several people complained that 30 seconds was too short.

Beverly Gadson-Birch, a member of the NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, was among those who told the board the proposed change appeared to be a way to stifle public input on education issues.

“The new 30 second policy is an attempt to quiet and limit comments from the public, from taxpayers who voted you into office,” Gadson-Birch said.

Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, told the board that no one could say “anything of substance” in 30 seconds, adding such a short amount of time was an “insult to the community you’re serving.”

“Just tell us you don’t want to hear from us,” Dunn said.

But the goal of the change, said board member Kate Darby, is to “manage the public comment time” after the board kept “finding ourselves not managing it as well as we could.” As a compromise, Darby suggested a speaking time of one minute.

Several board members said they didn’t like the 30 second limit, with board member Chris Staubes calling it “absurd.” Board Member Michael Miller said he worried that one minute instead of two was still too short, saying “for someone who’s really trying to get a point across an extra 60 seconds makes a difference.”

Darby said she felt changing public comments to one minute was worth a try, asserting “you can communicate a heck of a lot” in a minute.

“I feel like we need to manage that time so we can focus on student achievement,” she said.

The shorter speaking time will go into effect immediately.