Our political system is not a democracy but a republic. We retain in Arizona certain rights of direct democracy in the form of initiative, referendum and recall, but in the main we elect our state and local leaders for fixed terms for the same reason we elect federal ones: To govern with the consent of the governed.
That elected officials should listen to the counsel of their constituencies is a political truism, although, as outlined by the 18th century English lawmaker Edmund Burke, the representative must ultimately govern by his convictions and reason.
The Arizona Senate is to consider a House bill the lower chamber passed last week that would require school boards in public districts — and school boards alone — to make time during meetings for the public to speak on items not on the agenda. This differs from items on the agenda, where most every Arizona school board allows time for public comment, although some allow time for non-agenda items.
House Bill 2402 would amend the state’s 42-year-old Open Meetings Law to make these calls to the public mandatory. It would also let school boards restrict these comments reasonably as to time, place and manner — but nonetheless they must allow them.
Since the founding of our nation, tradition and law have placed control of schools in local hands. Government at higher levels — from legislatures to state and federal departments of education — has taken some of that power unto themselves, usually with few positive results.
Local school boards should — and most of the larger districts’ boards in Arizona already do — be allowed to decide on their own whether to allow such comment on non-agenda items. For the Legislature to impose such a political duty on other public bodies is unnecessary; school board members know their constituencies and how best to deal with them.
Some may argue that some of the more autocratic school boards do not allow public comment and should be made to do so. But local voters can correct that during the next election.
This bill is intrusion of one government entity into another for no reason. The Senate should reject it.