HISD May Impose a 5-Minute Limit on Speeches by Board Members [UPDATED]

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Update 10:25 a.m. December 8: A reader alerted us that the time-limit item was taken off the agenda this morning, which we have verified. So doesn't look like this will be up for a vote after all.

Was it just one Jolanda Jones harangue too many?

For years, the Houston ISD has placed a limit of three minutes on public speakers at its meetings (one minute if there’s a huge crowd). Now it appears ready to approve a similar measure for its board members.

On tonight’s agenda there is a proposal to limit board member speeches to five minutes on each item. It is a marked about-face from a previous fairly laissez-faire attitude that said the board president should “not interfere with debate.”

Last month, as we reported, HISD school board President Manuel Rodriguez finally stepped in and cut off a lengthy address from trustee Jolanda Jones at the end of a meeting. This was the first time Jones had been gaveled to a close since joining the board in January.

Certainly there have been windy board members before. Outgoing board member Harvin Moore, bless his heart and soul, has been known to meander a bit in his comments from time to time. Former board member Larry Marshall (long before his fall from grace) could muster up sermons that despite their entertainment value could cause audience members to glaze over as they rode them out. In fact, any of the board members, given enough passion about a particular project or idea, have been known to wax on and on occasionally.

The difference has been the frequency and strident tone of many of the former city councilwoman and reality TV star's diatribes, which have included attacks on her fellow board members and staff at a previously unseen level.

Here’s the board policy under the heading of Discussions and Limitations, with the present policy followed by the proposed deletions, followed by the proposed new wording:

Discussions shall be addressed to the President of the Board and then the entire membership. Discussion shall be directed solely to the business currently under deliberation, and the Board President shall halt discussion that does not apply to the business before the Board.

The Board President shall also halt discussion if the Board has agreed to a time limitation for discussion of an item, and that time limit has expired. Aside from these limitations, the President shall not interfere with debate so long as members wish to address themselves to an item under consideration.

A Board member may speak for a maximum of five minutes to address an item that is before the Board for consideration. When first recognized to address an item, a Board member may use his or her entire allotted time. If a Board member does not use his or her entire allotted time the first time the member is recognized to speak, the member may be recognized to address the item a second time for the remainder of the member’s allotted time after all other Board members wishing to address the item have had an opportunity to speak at least once. A Board member may not give or yield any portion of his or her allotted time to another Board member. The Board may vote to extend the allotted time for a Board member, or for all Board members, to address an item that is before the Board for consideration.

Of course, the board can vote not to adopt this policy. Even if the board adopts it, it can decide to waive it at any given meeting. But if it adopts it, one board member cannot pass his or her time over to another.

No word yet on how board members will react to the proposal tonight. But look forward to some lengthy debate on it before it’s all over.

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