Citizens speak on schools despite new policy
Six citizens spoke to the school board during the public comments portion of the June 25 board meeting in Moncks Corner.
Nancy Corbin of Ridgeville addressed the ongoing SLED investigation.
“I want to give you all an A-plus on your policy on political activity,” she said. “It is clear, it is concise, it is easy to understand and everyone in this district I’m sure understands it.
“What I want to give you an F on is your oversight of that policy. Your policy is very clear: No one may solicit or collect funds for political use. No one can use the district communication system, including email or voicemail, to promote or solicit.”
John Green of Goose Creek spoke about the district’s recent vote to add $53 million in bonds related to the $198 million school improvement referendum.
“I spent my adult life being held accountable,” said Green, who added that his six children graduated from Stratford. “I have been held accountable for people’s lives on numerous occasions. On no occasion would I be allowed to go 20 percent off of any estimation I had in which people’s lives or their wellbeing was in question.
“And here we are with a $198 million referendum immediately followed by oops, we forgot about heating and air conditioning? Food and culinary equipment? Science lab equipment? These are all basic, simple items for any school.
“If I had done that in Kuwait or Afghanistan I’d probably still be in prison. And yet here we are with no accountability.”
Linda Riney of Cross zeroed in on the controversy over the proposed limiting of public comments.
“I would like to remind (school board chairman Kent Murray) that we live in the United States of America, still,” Linda Riney, of Cross, said. “We didn’t lose that over the past six or eight months. To threaten a citizen for wanting to get up and voice their opinion on an issue that directly involves the taxpayers . . . I can’t believe that.
“What are you people thinking? We are the taxpayers. We pay for everything you do. And you threaten us? How dare you?”
Ryan Gilsenan of Daniel Island took issue with the board about a proposed location for a middle school, and the fact that it would not be located on the island.
“We were led to believe you would be maintaining grades through the eighth grade there because that was so important to the fabric of the community,” he said. “Now the school district appears to have gone back on its word and you’re going to take the middle school grades off the island.
“I would like to think it’s not true. No ground has been broken yet and I eagerly await the school board and the administration who worked so hard to get this referendum passed at taxpayer expense to clarify what parts of land are being looked at on Daniel Island . . . where is the parent input that was promised?
“If we start breaking ground up Clements Ferry Road without any input from the people who were so egregiously misled, it’s going to be a sad day in Berkeley County.”
The public comments section of the meeting – which is at the center of a lawsuit filed by former school board member and current Republican Party Chairman Terry Hardesty – began with Murray reading public comments rules to the audience.
Murray read the entire back of the public comments card at the session, including a new section restricting comments on the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation into the district’s $198 million school improvement referendum campaign.
“At the last meeting I added a clarification point,” Murray said, reading the new section. “I want to emphasize this is not a revision of policy but a clarification.”
Murray asked speakers to follow the guidelines but said he did not intend to stop a speaker who did not abide by this request to minimize disrupting the meeting and to avoid unnecessary legal costs to the district.
Board member Phillip Obie said he does not agree with the statement on the back of the card regarding citizen comments, adding that the board should be advised by an attorney to see if it violates any law or policies.
Board member Doug Cooper addressed the issue of the public comments.
“There’s a lot of people getting one side of the story,” Cooper said. “This is America and you do have rights. One of those rights is due process. One of those is that you’re innocent until proven guilty.
“No one to this day has been charged with anything . . . the (SLED) investigation will end and then the board will be able to deal with that. It is a personnel issue for us.”
“I’m almost at a loss for words at how disappointed I am in the board’s actions,” Hardesty said during his turn at the public comments podium. “I heard the chairman tonight make a threat to the citizens in this room to keep their mouths shut. I think that’s appalling.
“So I’m going to be quiet about the ethics investigation. I’m going to assure you, Dr. Murray, that I did not make a threat with my letter. It was a promise.”