NEWPORT — The extent to which people are allowed to speak at school board meetings is at the center of a lawsuit filed by resident Bert Spaulding Sr..
Spaulding’s lawsuit, filed in the Sullivan Superior Court last month, claims the board is ignoring a citizen petition Spaulding and others brought calling for a special school district meeting. Spaulding wants voters to weigh in on his proposal that requires the board to allow unlimited time at meetings for members of the public to talk on relevant subjects, according to his lawsuit.
The board moved this summer to restrict the amount of public participation at meetings, according to Spaulding’s lawsuit. While his petition to free up public speaking at the meetings should have triggered a special district meeting within 60 days, the district has instead opted to hold a special meeting on the day of the February deliberative session, his lawsuit states.
The “district’s action is tantamount to frustrating the request of the voters by having a ‘special’ meeting during the regular ‘deliberative session.’ It is not insignificant that the Deliberative Sessions have been poorly attended, as their purpose is fundamentally to propose legislation rather than to act on it,” wrote Michael Shklar, Spaulding’s attorney in the lawsuit.
Spaulding, a former selectman, has sued the school board and the board of selectmen over budget issues and the right for members of the public to speak at meetings. He filed a federal civil rights action against the town in the 1990s after he was arrested for continuing to read from a legal opinion during a selectmen’s meeting after he was told to stop, according to court records.
The board’s attorney, Demetrio Aspiras, writes that Spaulding’s lawsuit is asking for essentially an illegal action and should be dismissed. The school board has the legal authority to set its own rules, and not the district’s legislative body, as represented by annual district meeting voters, according to Aspiras.
“Because the proposed warrant article exceeds the authority of the legislative body, and intrudes onto the authority of the Board, it is not a proper subject for a special meeting,” Aspiras wrote.
The matter has been taken under advisement by Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker.