Marathon meetings in Arundel

December 01, 1992

The Anne Arundel County school board doesn't hold meetings. It stages marathons.

The board's daytime sessions, which start at 9, routinely drone on for 10 hours. The evening meetings begin at 7:30 and do not end until the wee hours of the morning.

It would be one thing if the meetings were packed with riveting discussions of critical issues. But usually the lengthiest debates are deadly dull and insignificant.

Should it really take an hour to approve a simple purchase order? Or two hours to talk about property easements?

Repetition and long-windedness are not the only reasons the meetings are exercises in torture.

The board regularly bolts into executive session during meetings, cloistering itself for up to two hours at a clip while school administrators and citizens are left sitting and twiddling their thumbs.

Too often, the most important items on the agenda are left until last, forcing citizens who wish to comment to wait for hours. At night meetings, people have waited past midnight for the board to get to a certain issue.

When citizens give testimony, the board fails to impose reasonable limits on how long they can speak. It also makes no effort to avoid repetition when large numbers of people show up to voice the same opinion.

Each of 200 people who came to talk about new grade point average requirements for student-athletes last month was allowed to speak, even after the same points were made repeatedly.

Tomorrow, the board is to consider a list of common-sense suggestions, proposed by member Michael Pace, designed to shorten its meetings. There's no need for lengthy discussion.

It shouldn't take the board three hours to see the merits of scheduling crowd-drawing agenda items at the beginning of meetings; of holding executive sessions before or after meetings; of limiting testimony from individuals or group representatives; of avoiding repetition by asking those who support public testimony but have nothing new to add to stand to show their opinion, and of ending meetings automatically at 5 p.m. or 11 p.m.

Everyone welcomes public debate. No one welcomes endless boredom. If the school board refuses to shorten these endless meetings, it will only be a matter of time before people who might otherwise get involved in school issues decide it's not worth the pain.

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