Riesland’s rules

By: 
Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Chairman and board clash over public comment at first meeting of 2023

 

John Riesland, the recently elected chairman of the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees, laid down the law during the board’s first meeting of 2023. The longtime board member presented a list of rules and expectations for meetings that were met with some objection from trustees. 

To begin the Jan. 11 meeting, Riesland said that he had changed the board’s agenda and that he had several rules and guidelines for meetings moving forward, most notably a requirement for individuals to identify themselves to attend the meetings — either in person or online.

“If you sign in as ‘iPhone’ (over Zoom), you will be kicked out. I want you to sign in with your name. We want to know who you are. There is also a sign-in sheet by the door,” Riesland said. “That way we know who is at our meetings.”

In addition to requiring members of the public to sign in, Riesland also explained that comments during the public comment portion of the meeting and discussion throughout the meeting will be limited to what is on the agenda. 

“If it is not on the agenda, I am not going to entertain your comments,” Riesland said. “Just know that.” 

According to Riesland, sticking to items on the agenda fosters transparency and openness.
“That way there are no surprises to the public or the board. Everyone knows what is going to be discussed,” he said, noting that this rule could change in emergency situations. 

Riesland then said that parents or other members of the public who want to address the board on a specific topic that is not on the agenda will need to get themselves put on the agenda under “future discussion items.” 

Additionally, he said that patrons wanting to address issues or concerns with the board will need to go through the “chain of command” before the board will entertain the discussion. 

This chain of command, Riesland said, includes addressing the teacher, bus driver or other staff member first before going to administration and finally Superintendent Brad LaCroix. Once those avenues are exacerbated, the individual can be put on the agenda to address the board as a whole. 

“If you don’t go through the chain of command, you probably won’t get on the agenda,” he said, noting that the process will allow for everyone to do their job before involving the board. 

“I am not trying to stifle anyone’s communication; there is no intent of that. It should be an open and flowing session,” Riesland said. “I just want it to be transparent, for everyone to know what we are talking about, and we will stick to that so there is no confusion down the road.” 

In response, Trustee Jason Jenkins stated that several parents had reached out to him with concerns and had planned to attend the next board meeting. He said that he would contact those individuals and inform them of the new process. 

Riesland acknowledged that the changes are a work in process, encouraging the board to share any concerns or suggestions with him. 

“I work for you guys. I want to make that very plain,” Riesland said. 

Following his opening statements, trustee Dana Mann-Tavegia said that some board policies may need to be adjusted to fit Riesland’s new rules. He agreed that the board could look at those policy concerns during the next meeting. 

“My question would be … If we are violating some kind of policy, should we be looking at that policy first before we change how we are doing the meeting?” Jenkins asked. 

“I am not changing how we do the meeting. I am just changing how the agenda is set up. If we have to make adjustments to policy, that is fine,” Riesland said, adding that for the time being he was overruling any policy or policies that were of concern. 

He again stressed that the changes he was making were to promote openness and transparency, which he said was a point of concern during the 2022 election. 

Directly after the opening discussion, Riesland opened the meeting to public comment. Stanley Jasinski — a member of the public who frequently attends meetings in-person — attempted to address the board, but Riesland quickly stopped the comments. Jasinski claimed his comments were in relation to something that was noted in the minutes of the board’s December meeting, and asked Riesland to allow him to speak because approval of those minutes was on the agenda. Riesland upheld his denial, but noted that the board had the ability to overrule his decision and allow Jasinski to speak. 

“I ask for the overrule or objection considering this is the first time it is being brought up (the new rules). Anyone who would like to say something today should be allowed to speak,” Jenkins said. 

“From today on, it should be what was presented,” he concluded, in deference to the newly announced rules. 

The board voted to overrule Riesland’s decision with only trustee Dana Gordon voting to support the denial of Jasinski’s wish to comment. Trustee Billy Fitzwater voted to allow Jasinski to speak, but also noted that he was comfortable with the expectations laid out by the chairman moving forward . 

Several policies regarding board operation will be discussed on Jan. 25 during the board’s next meeting, at the request of Mann-Tavegia.

 

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