LOS LUNAS — Los Lunas Board of Education member Bryan Smith proposed a policy change during its September 22 meeting to open the board’s public comment procedure, making it more accessible.
“I just want people to be able to walk into our board room and say, ‘Look, I have a legitimate concern,’ but we still have to follow our rules about personnel,” Smith said. “I don’t want anybody on the staff to get blasted. I don’t want to talk about kids, that’s illegal, so there are rules we have to follow.”
Under the proposed policy, which Smith had reviewed by a school district attorney prior to the meeting, the public will be allowed to address the board during the public comment section of the meeting after filling out a public comment request form. The topic discussed would no longer have to be about an agenda item.
“If you go to the village of Los Lunas, you put your name down, you can talk about whatever you want … Belen same way,” Smith told the News-Bulletin. “I want it to be if you have a concern about the dress code, you don’t have to request that it’s on an agenda and you don’t have to make sure it’s on an agenda.
“You can come over and say, ‘Look, I have a question about the dress code, here’s my form, I followed your basic procedures,’ and we should let you grab a microphone and talk for three minutes.”
Smith presented similar changes in 2015 to amend the 2011 policy; however, the changes were voted down in a 3-1 vote, with Smith being the only board member at the time to vote in favor. He again advocated for changes in 2017 when the board was revising their board policies, however the majority of the board voted in favor of keeping a limited public forum with Smith being the only dissenting vote.
According to the current board policy, public comment is limited to agenda items only, and will only be permitted if a public comment form is filled out and submitted to the superintendent’s office.
Los Lunas Superintendent Arsenio Romero said these forms may be submitted as late as the evening of the meeting, if the agenda allows. Legally, in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, a final agenda needs to be released publicly 72 hours prior to the regular meeting.
If a community member wishes to address the board on an item not already listed on the agenda, a request in writing to the office of the superintendent no later than 10 days prior to the scheduled board meeting for review.
Smith originally brought up a potential proposed policy change during the board’s July meeting as a discussion item to mixed responses from the rest of the board.
Board president Tina Garcia pointed out that an avenue to address the board already exists while allowing for board members to be prepared for what is brought before them.
Other board members, David Vickers and Eloy Giron, said they were open to a change; however, they first wanted to see how other school districts regulate public comment.
During the first reading of the proposed policy change during the board’s September meeting, Garcia asked for Smith to be patient with passage since a representative from New Mexico School Board Association will be reviewing the board’s policies in October.
“Every school district always has all of their policies but, every once in a while, you need to go through them to update them,” Romero said. “So, some of them, this is one example of one we are specifically looking at, but really (they) need to be looked at every so often to make sure we have updated language when it comes to legislative updates.”
Romero mentioned the board specifically asked NMSBA to review the board’s public comment policy.
“I think the purpose there is to allow all five board members to have input into all of the policies, including this one,” Romero said.
Smith asked for the board president to temporarily suspend the board policy requiring three readings of any new policy before it can be put to a vote during the next school board meeting. He also asked for the policy suspending the three readings to be reinstated after the proposed public comment policy is voted on.
“I don’t wanna wait, and I appreciate the NMSBA and Mr. Kennedy, who I respect reviewing our policies, but that is months down the road, months and months,” Smith said. “And later on, if the NMSBA wants to tweak it, I’m not concerned about the legality. I know it’s legal.”
The next regular Los Lunas Board of Education meeting will take place at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 25, in the central office boardroom.