How To Make Public Comment at the Board of Trustees

March 06, 2012

Hey Students!

I’m a huge supporter of students speaking out and being heard at every level of the college governance. The more students who speak and share their ideas, the more powerful the student voice is on campus. Unfortunately, I have seen the student’s lack of knowledge on Brown Act and the procedures of the Board of Trustees in particular get in the way of students’ ability to express themselves.

As someone who has had Brown Act drilled into my head (courtesy of our infamous Chief Justice), I would like to do my best to help those students who wish to address the Board of Trustees but who may get bogged down in the procedures and have their voice silenced because of it. As such, I have answered the following frequently asked questions on speaking during public comment at the Board of Trustees.

 

Who are the Board of Trustees?

The Board of Trustees are the main governing body of PCC. They are the head honchos – they have purview over every aspect of PCC, and they have the power to lead the college as they choose. The Board members are elected officials, who each represent a different geographical area of PCC’s District. For more information, you can check out http://www.pasadena.edu/board/.

What is public comment? What is Brown Act?

Public Comment means the ability for any member of the public to share their ideas, beliefs, or experiences with a body like the Board of Trustees. Because the Board is a publicly elected body, it cannot legally make decisions without hearing from the public first. The law which prohibits this, and instills other restrictions on the Board, is called the Brown Act.

What kind of issues can I comment on, and why should I?

Students, faculty, members of the community, or any other member of the public are allowed to comment on any item that is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees. Basically, if it happens at PCC, you can comment to them. So if your class was cut, or you can’t get into classes, or you feel like there isn’t enough tutoring available, you can come and speak to the Board and ask them to do something about it. It is important to bring these up to the Board because it gives them personal stories of how their decisions affect students, and can in turn affect their decisions.

What does it mean for a topic to be on or off the agenda?

The Brown Act requires the Board of Trustees to agendize any topic they will be discussing or taking action on 72 hours in advance. Therefore, any item that is not on a prepared agenda cannot be discussed by the Board at that specific meeting. However, the public is allowed to comment on items that are not agendized. The only drawback on this is the fact that the person making the comment will not be able to ask questions of the Board, and the Board will not be able to engage in discussion based on their comment.

The current Board agenda can be found in their meeting packet at http://www.pasadena.edu/boardpacket/index.cfm.

How do I make a public comment?

To streamline the commenting process, the Board has created a procedure for making comments. Any public wishing to comment must fill out a comment card, a yellow half-sheet of paper stating who you are and that you wish to speak. This card asks for your personal information, in case the Board wishes to contact you later about your comments, as well as identify you as a student, faculty, staff, or community member. The card also has a space for you to fill in what item you wish to speak on. If your topic is on the agenda, write in the corresponding letter as it appears on the agenda. If your topic is not on the agenda, write the letter that appears on the agenda before “Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items.” Both agendas and the comment cards are available on the table in the Board of Trustees meeting room.

How long can my public comment be?

The Board has two restrictions on the length of public comments. The first is in regards to each comment – no individual is allowed to speak for more than 5 minutes. The second is in regards to the total allotment of time for public comment on any particular item – no item may have more than 30 minutes of public comment. For instance, if an item is discussing the cutting of sections, and the comment period of the item begins at 8:00, then public comment will only continue until 8:30. Each speaker can have up to five minutes, but if six speakers each take five minutes, no further comment can take place on that agenda item.

There are a couple of ways around these rules. First, the Board of Trustees can take action to increase the total time of the comment period on an agenda item if they feel it is necessary and productive. Second, any speaker can yield their time to another speaker – if you wish to make a few comments for two minutes, for example, you can then yield the remaining three minutes to another speaker.

Note – The 30 minute total comment period also applies to the total period of comments for items not on the agenda. For instance, students A and B wish to comment on tutoring and student C wishes to comment on class sizes, and neither topic is on the agenda. Student A takes 4 minutes, student B takes 2 minutes, and student C takes 5 minutes, for 11 minutes total. There would remain only 19 minutes for any other members of the public to comment on tutoring, class sizes, or any other item that is not on the Board’s agenda.

If my topic is on the agenda, how will the Board respond to me?

The Board is obligated to hear all of the public comment before they begin discussion or take action. Therefore, the Board will not immediately address your questions or concerns during your comment. If you have specific questions to ask, you may wish to make them clear and concise, so that the Board can easily note them and respond during their discussion.

Do I have to stay for the entire meeting?

No, there is no requirement to stay for the whole meeting if you are making a comment. However, I would personally recommend you stay for as long as you are able, and at least to stay to hear the Board’s discussion on the item. Most importantly, it will help you to hear what the Board’s position on the topic is, and know of their response and any action they may take. In addition, the Board will be more likely to respond to your questions and concerns if you are still present at the meeting.

 

Hopefully the answers I provided above will help you feel more comfortable making a comment, and this will then strengthen the power and effectiveness of the student voice at PCC. If you have any further questions or concerns, please send me an email or come speak to me in my office.

 

All the best,

Chris Fennessy

VP for Academic Affairs

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