Community members and at least one school board member say newly interpreted school board rules are ridiculous and unfairly limit the public's input.
At issue are two rules that newly elected school board chairwoman Mary Cordray brought up during Tuesday's meeting.
The first, which she enforced Tuesday, dictates that residents cannot identify people by name when addressing the board. Another rule, in effect going forward, requires speakers to "confine their comments to matters germane to the business of the Board."
During Tuesday's meeting, Cordray banged her gavel when a speaker said the names of two board members during his comments to the board. Cordray also warned residents that the latter rule limited residents to only speaking about issues on the agenda.
Cordray said she recently reviewed the rules and interpreted them how she saw fit, in addition to having a few informal conversations with board members.
Joseph Dunkle, who lost the election for board chairman 7-3, said he was not part of any discussions on enforcing the rules and was shocked when Cordray stopped one resident from thanking him and fellow board member JoAnn Orischak for taking the public's input seriously following the controversial hiring of Darlene Moss, superintendent Jeff Moss' wife.
Dunkle said residents should also be free to say when board members are doing wrong.
"I feel it's un-American really if you can't come up and criticize an elected official," Dunkle said. "It's absurd."
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Other members of the public called Cordray's interpretation of the policy censorship, arguing that it is misguided to prevent residents from addressing by name the public officials seated before them.
"In other *shocking news more elected officials state they don't care about voter's opinions!" one woman wrote on the Island Packet's Facebook page.
"Welcome to the USA of dictatorship," another wrote.
The policy was enforced differently under former chairman Bill Evans, who resigned Oct. 6 in the wake of the controversial hiring.
Residents were sometimes reminded of the rule but people were not prevented from talking about Jeff Moss, Darlene Moss or any board member by name, and they could speak about any matter whether or not it was on the board's agenda.
On Tuesday, members of the public resorted to calling the Mosses 'Mr. X' and 'Mrs. Y' in order to share the comments they had prepared.
Reached Wednesday, Evans said he didn't think preventing the public from using public officials' names was the intent of the policy.
"We might all see it as a little silly if you're talking about Mr. X and everyone knows who we're talking about," he said. "But that is what the policy says literally, and there's nothing wrong with (Cordray) interpreting it that way."
Speakers who violate the policy and refuse to listen to the board chairwoman may be prohibited from participating in public comment sessions for up to six months, according to the policy.
The board may also vote any time to relax the rules for the course of a meeting, an option Cordray noted the board may use until new rules are put in place.
Board members will discuss the rules during a work session Saturday and could decide to change them, Cordray said. It would mark the first time the rules have been altered since they were implemented in 2008.
"The goal is to have this board decide what we want to be our practice and policy and start using it," Cordary said Wednesday. "But until we talk about it, it's hard to know what the majority of the group wants it to be."
In the mean time, Evans said the public should respect the school board's rules and ease up on its criticism. He wishes they would also turn their attention from the recent controversy involving Darlene Moss to the areas where Jeff Moss and the board have shown stronger leadership.
"Where's any sense of forgiveness on peoples' minds about any of this? Nobody has been hurt in this whole thing except for possibly Mrs. Moss, who has been hurt significantly," Evans said. Darlene Moss resigned from her $90,0000 post following public outcry over her hiring. The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported that she was selected for the job after her husband, superintendent Jeff Moss, altered the district's nepotism rule.
"Of all these critics who keep coming back and coming back, are we to believe that not one of them have ever made a mistake in their professional career they had to apologize for?" Evans said.
Officer elections voting record
- Mary Cordray, previously serving as vice-chair, was elected the new board chairman at Tuesday's regularly scheduled board meeting, with votes from herself, Laura Bush, Evva Anderson, Earl Campbell, Geri Kinton, Bill Payne and Paul Roth. Running against her was Joseph Dunkle, who was nominated by JoAnn Orsichak and also received a vote from Michael Rivers.
- Bush, previously serving as secretary, was elected the new vice-chair by the same seven members, running against Dunkle again.
- Anderson was elected the new secretary by the same seven members. including Kinton, who was nominated for the secretary position by Orischak. Only Orischak and Dunkle voted for Kinton. Rivers abstained
Contacting the board
Do you want your voice heard? Here's how to contact Beaufort County School District board members:
Mary Cordray, District 8 - Bluffton
(843) 681-9838 - Home
(803) 312-1196 - Cell
Laura Bush, District 9 - Bluffton
Evva Anderson, District 7 - Pritchardville
Joseph Dunkle, District 4 - Port Royal
Earl Campbell, District 1 - Gray's Hill, Lobeco
(843) 846-4531 - Home
(843) 476-7512 - Cell
Geri Kinton, District 5 - Okatie, Beaufort
JoAnn Orischak, District 11 - southern Hilton Head Island
Michael Rivers, District 3 - St. Helena Island
(843) 263-8467 - Cell
Paul Roth, District 6 - Okatie
Bill Payne, District 10 - northern Hilton Head Island
(843) 682-3285 - Home
(310) 600-0873 - Cell
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- New school board chair supports Moss, cracks down on public comments, Nov. 3, 2015
- Special election to replace Bill Evans would be held in February, Oct. 12, 2015
- Chairman Bill Evans resigns from Beaufort County school board, Oct. 6, 2015
- Most Beaufort school board members decline comment on hiring of superintendent's wife, Sept. 16, 2015