Some Thin-Skinned DISD Trustees Want Public to Stop Picking on Them During Board Meetings

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Leslie's up shortly with a recap of yesterday discussion about expanding the Dallas Independent School District's calendar, which got further with the trustees than some of the Friends of Unfair Park predicted earlier. I sat through the rest of the meeting to see how the board would handle that $40-million technology contract with Prime, which was eventually deferred to a closed-door discussion at a later date -- no surprise there, given the ongoing litigation. Shortly after that, or about six hours into a close-to-seven-hour meeting, it got real interesting as the trustees turned to the topic of public speakers at board meetings -- and how to keep 'em quiet.

This came up about two years ago, when there was some discussion about limiting comments. But as it turns out, the board doesn't like to be picked on. And at least one member -- board president Lew Blackburn -- would like to find a way to limit or eliminate public speakers who use their three minutes to say not-nice things about the district's higher-ups.

"Occasionally we have people come speak to the board, and it's more of a three-minute bullying, if you will," Blackburn said by way of introduction. "I don't mind listening to folks tell us about what we should do, or if they don't like the votes we've done or are about to make, but to attack individual trustees or employees personally I think is not a good thing, and I think we need to find way to limit that if not altogether eliminate it. So I've asked our legal staff to see if there's something we can do in our policy beyond me just saying, 'OK, turn off the mic, and we're going to go on.'"

The board was told by its chief legal counsel, Jack Elrod: Well, you can get rid of public participation altogether. He reminded them, "the Attorney General has said that's not required." But the board was also told they're public figures, and this comes with the territory -- even if "it's rude or hard to take." (Just ask the Dallas City Council, which gets its ass handed to it every Wednesday. Only, not once in recent memory has the council -- which, unlike the DISD board, is paid -- considered limiting public comment. Which isn't to say that speakers haven't occasionally been asked to leave or escorted out of chambers.)

Bernadette Nutall said, well, it's just not fair that the board members "don't get to defend ourselves, say, 'That's not true' or answer questions.' That's basic bullying. If you're going to teach kids to fight fair ... we have to do that with adults. If you don't like something I'm doing you can be very direct ... but when you're calling people names, like when they called Dr. Blackburn 'Hitler,' that's very childish."

Mike Morath proposed moving public comments to an hour before the start of board meetings -- a sort of give-and-take public hearing every month. But some of the trustees didn't dig that; that's adding more time to an already time-consuming schedule.

"I don't mind if somebody calls me a steaming pile of pig crap, frankly, but I do mind if they call or employees that," said Morath. He said that he finds "aspects" of public comments valuable, but only when they're sent to him directly. Because if you come in and say something to the board before a particular agenda item comes up for a vote, "you're not going to sway me one way or the other. You're not going to impact my behavior."

Carla Ranger, of course, was agin this whole subject: "While board members feel they're being attacked or assaulted, the people who come feel they've been assaulted, they've been attacked." They see policies and decisions, Ranger said, "and they feel helpless and hopeless and come there hoping that they can influence us and change our minds or affect our vote or affect our opinion. I always try to keep and open mind and listen so that I have not made a decision prior to that vote. I may have something in mind, but I want to listen. ... As the attorney reminded us, we are public officials, and that does come with the territory. And there is such a thing as freedom of speech, and they can say what they want to say when they want to say it."

And, for goodness' sake, she reminded: "It's only three minutes." And: "We expect them to vote for us, we expect them to pay school taxes, we expect them to volunteer." And to tell them what they can't or can't say isn't in the board's best interest.

Nutall wasn't impressed. Yes, she said, public comments are valued and freedom of speech is fine, so long as it's done with a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t. "But if we all exercised our freedom of speech, where would we be? ... You have to as adults lead by example. You don't get the right to say whatever you feel."
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nowhere2run
nowhere2run

I have started a petition through Care2.com call "Tougher Laws for Bullies". Please come visit us and sign our petition. It's free and it won't cost you anything, only time. All we are asking is that you sign the petition and spread the word so that everyone else could sign it to.  The goal is 1,000 signature so we could be heard. Tell your friends, FB, family members so that we could send a message loud and clear that bullying needs to stop and we are no longer going to allow it. I have send a similar message to Fox4 News in Texas, Ellen DeGeneres and now you guys to help with making a different for new laws against bullying. Please help us spread the word

cp
cp

I'm troubled by Mr. Morath's comments. He's basically saying that public meetings are all for show. If that's his attitude, then why even bother with an agenda and invite the public? 

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Wow. Here I go.......

I can barely type, since I am actually laughing as I type this. Man, to be harangued, in public, for about 30 minutes, once a month. Pity.

Ladies and gentlemen of the DISD Board of Trustees, let me write to you here what I cannot say before you, since I am still an employee--despite the best efforts of a couple of you, by the way--your buddies talk to me. Anyway, I digress....

Try being a teacher in a high school. For 13 years. Over the years----

Try being called the worst names, or combination of names, you can think of, and then add "white" to the mix, and you pretty much have what I heard over the many, many years at two different high schools...

F^%$ing white B&$ch.

Motherf&^*ing, white B%$ch

.B*&ch ass.

Fat white B$%ch.

Add in physical threats, threats of lawsuits, threats of parents going to beat our asses, threats against our families, our pets, our cars and our houses and well, there you have it. Over the years, you have had--and still have, some trustees who insult us by innuendo, gut our authority, disrespect our profession and treat us like cogs in a machine. They have tried to limit how often we speak before them, how many of us can speak on an issue, etc...I agree some speakers go way over the line, but hey, that is politics.

Maybe what they are missing here is how ginned the system is here. The less transparent the organization, the worse the public outcry will be. The less you throw open the doors and invite people in for a conversation, the louder people will yell at you to get your attention. Maybe the thought should be: How can we talk to these people BEFORE they go rat-craphouse crazy?

Frank
Frank

So as a teacher and a role model for children, you're response is "I get disrespected, so I don't have a problem if others do as well?"  Great example.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Wow, you cannot read humor in print, can you? Never did I say I support the ranters who use names at the meetings. In fact, the LAST words on the post pretty much sums up what I see them acting like.... Read, dear, read.

My point was--is--you will always have a lunatic fringe at meetings. For YEARS, there was a gentleman who came to both DISD and City of Dallas meetings and ranted on and on with crazy conspiracy theories tied to the lead smelters in West Dallas, his son's stabbings, etc... Man, he called ANY trustee or council person ALL kinds of names. The man was clearly not all there, and they just let him do it. It was expected. The joke was that I usually had to speak after him, so.... well, he made me seem a little saner.

The complaint not fully covered by Mr Wilonsky is that the speakers talked about in this piece are already violating speaking rules in DISD. You are not allowed to mention employees by name, and to make false staments, accusations and such against trustees who cannot answer back by protocol, is "unfair."

Granted. However, part of the reason they get these people coming forward are:

They are stirred up by one group versus another in the old style Dallas game of "tear down the other" group/race/whatever...

Many parents do not know the rules and will just go up there and make all kinds of claims of violence, and god knows what against a teacher, admin person or trustee...

Sheer frustration on not getting an answer or resolution to a problem...

My point was to make the trustees --who do read this blog, put their pain and anger into context. Teachers get this kind of stuff all the time. We can do little, if anything, but take it. Maybe if local government were more open, honest and forthright in dealing with issues, people and problems, a lot of this could be avoided.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

I was there. I know..... And don't get mad at me---but at the time, the DISD was correct, in that the kid had NOT graduated. He had not gained all the credits necessary---there are not "honorary" diplomas. He had not taken finals, and I think they have to get a waiver from the state, yada, yada...

Now, I know which trustee you speak of--or was it the one who likes to work crossword puzzles and laugh while people address the podium? Believe me, I am sympathetic. But for all of my antics and loud speeches, I never have called out a specific person--no wait, once, because he said something I had a response to--and I made the error of saying his name--and he yelled at me in the hall afterwards. Seriously, threatened me.

But he is in jail now, so eh.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Were you there the night the parents whose son had died just before graduation BEGGED the trustees to grant their son a diploma?

All they wanted was that diploma to hang on the wall or put on the mantel. It was one of the most awful pleas I have ever had to listen to.  (At least one trustee wasn't listening; he was chatting and smiling at the trustee next to him, who was trying to ignore him.  You can guess which trustee it was.  Even Hinojosa was sitting up and listening with complete attention to the parents).WEEKS of wrangling, anguish, and phone calls had netted these poor parents nothing.Maybe if the 3700 employees the trustees grant so much undeserved power were doing actual jobs, the public wouldn't need to show up and rant.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I see her point more as "Funny how the same people who treat teachers with such disrespect complain about the public treating them with disrespect."

Frankly Frank, I think the most of the current trustees have earned the public's disrespect.  The fact that the trustees feel umbrage over some 3-minute rants shows how out of touch many of them are with what is happening in most DISD schools; the mayhem and disrespect are a day-in, day-out routine.  

Any trustee who knew what goes on in the schools would never complain publicly about feeling bullied by negative push-back from a fed-up public.  They would know that the campus personnel endure far worse daily.  

The Big Picture
The Big Picture

Serving on the DISD board is an unpaid position. As evidenced by the length of this meeting (which was only a board briefing and not even a meeting where votes were taken), serving on the DISD requires SUBSTANTIAL sacrifice with no pay, no reward. Board members are within their right to ask that speakers remain respectful.

I get incredibly tired of the bloggers who complain about the board yet don't run for office themselves. If you want the best board possible, pay them. Treat them with respect. Allow the meetings to focus on key decisions and avoid taking valuable time where speakers are there as much for their three minutes of fame...the more board members think this is a thankless job with no pay, little respect, and tremendous sacrifice for their family, the fewer the number of quality people will run. You get what you create Dallas. Think about it.

cp
cp

How about this: if you don't want to VOLUNTEER to serve the public in an unpaid politically elected position, then DON'T RUN FOR OFFICE. These people serve the people, not he other way around and that is something that is wrong with Dallas politics, from the County to the City Council to the DISD board, is that these ELECTED PUBLIC SERVANTS actually believe that the public serves them.

No, you should not have to run for office in order to earn the right to voice an opinion. And no, we should not PAY them, if they want a full-time job, and they don't have time for public service then they need to stay in the private sector.  

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Teachers cannot serve on the school board or I would run.Only non-teachers can "serve" bc teachers would stop the gravy train.And pay them?  With what? And what is fair compensation?  Where will it end?  TAXPAYERS ARE TAPPED OUT!  MANY HAVE LOST THEIR JOBS!  AND NOW WE'RE SUPPOSED TO PAY THESE PEOPLE WHO VOLUNTARILY RAN FOR OFFICE?Too time-consuming to be a public servant?  Then quit.  Others will step up.  We certainly could not do worse than a group of people who extended Hinojosa's contract and stood by while the district AU schools grew in number to 33.I can't conceive that it would be possible to do worse than people who voted to give raises to Durant, Rodriguez, and whomever else while a budget crisis loomed.  $57 million in Chick Fil A and you think we could do worse??NO to paying them while teachers are being fired and kids crammed into larger classes at falling-apart facilities bc of their mismanagement.We were told we had to pay Hinojosa such an inflated salary bc of the old "you get what you pay for" nonsense.  Yeah, look how THAT worked out.  He got the rock-star salary, we got the rock-bottom outcome.I'm willing to risk it as far as trustee quality goes.  

Frank
Frank

these blogs are full of comments from non-teachers.  If you don't like the situation, run for office.  But comments from the cheap seats from those who could serve themselves but choose instead to disrespect and disparage those who serve aren't worth a whole lot.

cp
cp

Or they are comments from VOTERS. Idiot.

boris the cat
boris the cat

Harry Truman said it best...if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Guest
Guest

Harry Truman didn't have central air conditioning.  Adjust your thermostat.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Every single day, great DISD kids are forced to endure the disruptive and disturbed kids around them.

Every single day, great DISD kids endure buildings with screwed up AC and heating units that leave the kids freezing or broiling--never somewhere in the middle.

Every single day, great DISD kids endure crappy teachers allowed to stay by incompetent principals hired by crony-hire EDs.

Every single day, great DISD kids stand in long lines waiting for terrible "healthy" food.

Every single day, great DISD kids get test-prepped for the next DISD test in the queue while private school kids are learning and exploring the world around them.

Every single day, parents across Dallas have to work to pay both school taxes and private school tuition bc the conditions at most DISD schools are not acceptable.

But 3 minutes of "bullying" is too much for these worthless adults busy doing nothing for the kids who suffer?

How aristocratic and coddled and arrogant (with our taxes) they have become...

Guest
Guest

"Every single day, great DISD kids are forced to endure the disruptive and disturbed kids around them."

But should something be done to change that?

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

Yes. But it's the teacher's fault.

My oh my
My oh my

 My..oh my... "The pot is calling the kettle black"  Board Member Nutall the same person that just last month placed a call to the Jubilee Park residents acting like a MAD woman because of an e-mail she received.   Board Member Nutall completely ignored and turned a deaf ear to the urgency of the matter in question.  The e-mail she received was about the lives and homes of the Jubilee Park residents who oppose their twisted plans and how their lives  may now be threatened because of DISD's recent actions.   You see DISD has been busy conducting meetings and distributing flyers putting blame on the residents of Jubilee Park for DISD’s failure to present an acceptable plan to the taxpaying citizens of Dallas.   These actions have stirred up hatred and hostility amongst the neighborhood and DISD continues to fuel parents’ misdirected anger and emotions with criticism towards the Jubilee Park Community.    Board Member Nutall was ONLY concerned about HER feelings!  Forgot all about the lives of the voters and taxpayers! Last year The Dallas school board passed an anti-bullying policy for students,  So how can this policy be enforced when our DISD leaders like Bernadette Nutall continue to break their own rules?  Could this be the reason DISD wants to silence the voice of the people?

Anon
Anon

I'd prefer that the DISD Trustees R-E-S-P-E-C-T my hard earned tax dollars but they flush them down the toilet with seeming disregard for the effort and time away from my family that earning them requires.

sports are fun
sports are fun

they do something I don't like so I get to be a jackass to them, knowing they can't respond?  I guess that passes as being an involved parent these day.

now, when is dallas getting a concrete skatepark?

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Democracy can be so darned messy at times can't it?  If citizens would just be quiet and not worry about these "rights" things would be much more orderly.

Guest
Guest

So, we've seen many members of this board attempt to add an extra year or so to their terms because they didn't want to face voters exercising their right to vote them out of office.

And they wanted to take people's property away from them without paying full value.

And now we see that they want to prevent constituents from telling them what they feel.

Why do they hate our freedoms?

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

I thought that it's supposed to be the conservative Republicans that want to take away our free speech rights...

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Hey Bernadette - you need to take lessons on anti-freedom double talk from Domingo Garcia.

DISDParent
DISDParent

Let's be honest.  People who make public remarks at the DISD board meetings are doing so for a public show.  It's not like they don't have an opportunity to share their opinion with trustees and the DISD administration before the meeting.  The telephone has been invented, the US Postal Service is still in business (today), a group email to all of the trustees takes less than three minutes, and if you just have to make it public, post it to YouTube and send the link.  And yes, I'm sure most of the trustees are reading this blog and reading comments.

Whether you attend the meetings in person or watch them online, at some point you feel like someone is using their public right but wasting a little bit of your time.

I feel like I may be one of the few people commenting here that actually pays attention to the DISD board meetings or cares about what they do.  A lot of people want to side with the people that make negative personal attacks on principle, but their comments suggest they've never considered if those attacks help Dallas ISD.  After hours of briefings and meetings and days/weeks of consideration, Carla Ranger may be the only trustee who will change her mind after hearing public comments. I vote in DISD races (unlike most tax payers).  I participate in meetings (board and schools).  I care about what goes on in DISD.

maryhasan
maryhasan

I beg to differ with you.  When my daughter had problems I went to the teacher first, the principal and the person in charge of high school with no resolution.  I then went to the board because the chain of command ignored my concerns.  I was only heard at the board meeting because those in charge did not want public comments made.

I know Bernadette and can't believe that she of all people would even suggest this.  I have heard her go off with no regards to the other person's feeling and to suggest that they stop people from attacking her, what hypocracy!  I personnaly suggest that we retire those who don't want comments from the public.

cp
cp

To suggest to this particular forum that you are in the minority when it comes to a) giving a shit about DISD affairs and b) voting, is a stretch. This isn't exactly the public comments section of the DMN...

That said, one of the great advantages of speaking at a public forum is to get your comments on the *public record*. Phone calls and emails don't accomplish that, and whatever the board has to say in response (and yes, they can, and do, respond to public speakers) also gets submitted on the public record.  

Anon
Anon

Phone calls can be ignored, voicemail erased, mail can be thrown in the trash, a group email is easily deleted, and no one can force the Trustees to open the link (let alone listen to) their rant on Youtube. Like it or not, the public comment portion of a public meeting is the only time that you can make damn sure that your comments are heard by your elected officials. If they don't like it, or if they think it takes up too much of their time, they can resign and let someone else run. If you feel like they are wasting your time, you are free to get up and walk out of the room.That the time in these meetings is usually given to people who often have little value or insight to offer is entirely beside the point.

Guest
Guest

No, I cannot walk out of the room.  I like hearing public comments that make sense and/or are good arguments.

Most of them are great.  Some are not.

Anon
Anon

Right. But you don't get to decide whose comments are "worthy" of the public record. No one is physically forcing you to be present. The board members are "forced" to be present. An obligation they can be relieved of by quitting.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Many trustees have publicly stated that they do NOT read emails, so your point is even more excellent than you realize.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

So in other words, the DISD board cant or wont take justly due criticism for not doing their job. Wonder why we dont hear these complaints about other local school districts in the area..Thats right, they do their jobs properly and make sure kids are educated. Its one of the reasons we need a state takeover of the district from the top down, as its corrupted to the core.

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

""But if we all exercised our freedom of speech, where would we be? " No, Nutall didn't REALLY say that ... did she?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Yeah, she really did, and followed it with "you don't get the right to say whatever you feel."

She calls it leading by example. So her lack of rudimentary civics knowledge is leading by example?

yellowjacket
yellowjacket

Well if we had NOT execised our freddom of speech, I can tell you where Ms. Nutall would be....These trustees should have been around a few years back when the Panthers filled the aisles and they were the nice folk compared to much of the public comments then.

Ed D.
Ed D.

Sounds like more people need to exercise their right to vote.

cp
cp

Or read a history book...

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

"but when you're calling people names, like when they called Dr. Blackburn 'Hitler,'

WELL I NEVER, HITLER ?

Perhaps Papa Doc Baby Doc. Idi Amin .Might be more in line here ?

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Agree with Mr. Mean 100%.  Respect has to be earned, and this bunch has yet to do it.  For all the time they spend patting themselves on the back over nonexistent achievements, they can take a few minutes of what-for from the peanut gallery.  Having said that, those who want to criticize should sometimes remember the old saying about catching flies with honey instead of vinegar, and how susceptible fools are to flattery.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

The city council members refer to one north Oak Cliff neighborhood as the “Banshees” because they are active in their community affairs, we have the County Commissioners who’s past meetings resemble a circus where the public voices their opinions and come almost to a fist fight (early this year) and now we have the poor school board trustees who feel imposed upon by being forced to listen to those who they should represent!   What is the common ground between all of these groups?   They fail to realize that they are public servants and that those who they get to listen to elected them and pay their salaries.  Perhaps too if they cleaned up their act and got their act together and stopped making such STUPID decisions with tax payer monies they would not have to listen to the negativity that they themselves have brought upon themselves.   Clean up your act DISD-you have a long history of abusing those who attend your meetings.

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