Our view: Bullying has no place at public meetings

Crestwood School board member James Costello gives a presentation on ways that school athletic clubs could benefit at the board meeting at Crestwood High School in Wright Township on Thursday, April 19. -

There is scarcely a parent of a school-age child who will not express disdain for bullying. It is a real problem with real consequences made more ubiquitous and unabated thanks to the internet.

Doubtless every adult in the Crestwood High School Auditorium last Thursday would have readily decried school bullying if the topic had been broached during a school board meeting stretching from 6:30 p.m. to almost 11 p.m.

Yet there they were, in a classic mob style, bullying a man who dared to stand up and voice support for a new field house the board plans to build despite rigorous outcry of misplaced priorities in a district struggling with a structural deficit.

A few points are needed to flesh out the scene.

• It is easy to argue spending millions on a field house is, indeed, a tone-deaf move for a district furloughing teachers and ending popular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes. Taxpayers have every right to voice their opposition, as many did Thursday, and they made strong arguments for a moratorium on the project.

• Board President Bill Jones put much of the audience into an adversarial mood from the start when he announced each person would get only one or two minutes to speak, and only speak once. Contrary to what many speakers expressed, the board does have a right to limit public discussion — the members have to actually conduct district business at some point in the meeting. But by tone and word choice Jones fueled an already simmering audience mood.

• Jones, Solicitor Jack Dean and other board members further roiled the waters by repeatedly insisting those at the podium only address issues pertaining to items on the agenda. They even narrowed it to items on the agenda that had been brought up for immediate discussion, telling those who wanted to talk about other, yet-to-be-mentioned items to hold their comments for later. This was a pointless procedural nit to pick.

• Lastly, audience members were right to demand a chance to address items not on the agenda, an opportunity explicitly promised — perhaps with unintended irony — with an item on the agenda. The audience arguably became rude and disruptive when the board tried to begin voting without allowing that added comment period, but the board was at fault here.

All that said, there was no justification for what happened once the board returned from a break and let 20 people step to the podium.

All night, dozens had railed against the furloughs or the field house, or both. One man bravely got up and talked of handicapped and elderly people being forced to use portable toilets during sport events, and voiced full support for the field house. The disdain of the crowd was palpable. Then others got up and referred to his turn at the podium as clear evidence taxpayers are overwhelmingly opposed to the field house.

Every time that lone supporter was mentioned, the mob laughed. The mob mocked. The mob belittled.

And those who partook of such behavior, who disrespected an opposing opinion offered in a civil manner, should be ashamed.

Crestwood School board member James Costello gives a presentation on ways that school athletic clubs could benefit at the board meeting at Crestwood High School in Wright Township on Thursday, April 19.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL042018Crestwood3-3.jpgCrestwood School board member James Costello gives a presentation on ways that school athletic clubs could benefit at the board meeting at Crestwood High School in Wright Township on Thursday, April 19.