Former teacher George Blakemore. Photo: Chicago Reader
Speaking at a Chicago Public School board of education meeting is not easy.
While the Chicago Tribune tried to compare democracy in the Chicago Teachers Union to North Korea, a better use of the North Korea-comparison would be the way in which the unelected CPS board allows for public comment.
Members of the public, employees of the district, Local School Council members and members of other groups wishing to speak must register in advance of the day of the meeting or by such other time noted in the meeting agenda published by the Board.
Advance registration will open the Monday preceding the Board meeting at 10:30 a.m. and close Tuesday at 5:00 p.m., or until all slots are filled, and is available by visiting www.cpsboe.org, by calling 773-553-1600, or in person at 1 North Dearborn, Suite 950.
Speaker registration must be made during the advance registration period, by the individual who will make the presentation. A picture ID must be shown to enter Board Room and must match the name given at the time of advance registration.
We have to sign up a day in advance of the meeting?
The board thinks hearing from teachers and parents is a waste of their time. They don’t answer to us, after all. They answer to the Mayor. Trust me. He doesn’t have to sign up a day ahead to speak to them.
Board members got tired of hearing from characters like George Blakemore. A former teacher and now in his seventies, Blakemore attends every public government meeting that he can.
Blakemore was featured in a Chicago Reader profile last year.
When I attend these meetings, I’m not welcome. The public officials resent public participation. They do not realize that it’s one of their job’s responsibilities, to educate and inform their constituents about the policies that are being made. Some of them do not send out e-mails, do not have community meetings. They make their decisions without the input of their constituents, and they make them in the interests of the politicians. It’s about who’s going to control the money, the goods, the services, the contracts.
I don’t have near the energy that George Blakemore does. Nor do I have the stomach to listen to most of what goes on at CPS board meetings and City Council meetings. I once tried to attend my alderman’s community hearing in which all those making public comment were pre-selected.
“I can’t comment at a community hearing?,” I asked the alderman.
He looked at me with one of those what-don’t-you-understand stares.
The new rule states that public participants must be physically present and “refrain from using profane language or obscene conduct” and refrain from making “irrelevant, repetitious or disruptive comments.”
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) wanted to make the new rule even tougher, by limiting speakers to 3 minutes for an entire committee meeting instead of 3 minutes per item.
But he ultimately agreed to withdraw that motion after Ald. John Arena (45th) warned of the “chilling effect” that would have on public input.
At the risk of stating the obvious, perhaps the Council could pass those rules for themselves. I think the part about refraining from being irrelevant and repetitious sounds good.
But leave it to First Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno to make things clear.
“Talk about taxpayer money and the waste of time that’s going on and the waste of time of aldermen that’s going on. Aggregate that over a year,” Moreno said.
“We’re not shutting the community out. In fact, our rules are very liberal. Try to go speak at a CPS board meeting. There are sign-up regulations. [At City Hall], people can just walk in this building and sign a pink slip . . . . These are very commonsense rules to stop wasting money and time on things that are not pertinent to the issue at hand,” he said.
Try to speak at a CPS board meeting.
Although from a democracy point of view that is a pretty low bar.