Del. Marshall Says School Board Chairman ‘Hand-Picked’ Citizen Time Speakers

| June 21, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

Del. Bob Marshall, Republican, representing the 13th District

Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13) has announced that he obtained text messages from Prince William School Board Chair Ryan Sawyers, via FOIA request, showing that Sawyers “hand-picked speakers,” to speak first at Citizens’ Time for the June 21 school board meeting.

A spokesperson for Ryan Sawyers said the opposition is trying to “create chaos” knowing that the board has likely has enough votes to pass the amendment to the non-discrimination police.

The school board meeting will be voting on revising its non-discrimination policy to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which is a controversial subject in the community.

The order of the list of speakers is important as the chairman can choose to hear only 30 minutes of Citizens’ Time. Sawyers said he would like to limit Citizens’ Time to move the meeting along, saying it would be unfair to make citizens wait until late into the night or next morning to learn the result of the vote.

Marshall believes that having the candidates speak out of the normal order could unfairly influence the vote.

“It is my understanding that because of the chairman’s direction to place his speakers at the beginning of the list, a majority of the opponents to Sawyers’ policy will not be allowed to speak until the end of the meeting after the School Board has already voted,” Marshall wrote.

Included in Marshall’s press release are the text message sent from Sawyers’ account to School Board Clerk Deborah Urban. The school division shared it with Marshall who requested it through the Freedom of Information Act.

The first message reads: “Debby, here are some names to be added to the top of the list for 6/21.”

After listing 14 speakers, some of whom included addresses, Sawyers wrote “All of these people have contacted me asking to speak and I told them I would relay the message for them.”

Urban asks if she should move up some middle school students ahead of them.

“Let me think about that,” wrote Sawyers. “No elected officials are moving up to the top. None. No dems. No GOP.”

“Sawyers’ 14 speakers contacted him directly, instead of contacting the School Board Clerk who normally signs people up to speak via letter, phone or email,” wrote Marshall.

Nate Salzman, spokesman for Sawyers, said that is not uncommon.

At his virtual town hall, Sawyers explained how he believes Marshall is misrepresenting the situation.

According to Sawyers, people cannot sign up to speak at a school board meeting until the day after the last one. The reason for this is so that someone does not sign up for all meetings at once, thus denying others the ability to have a place on the list.

“We typically only do one citizen’s time list at a time,” Salzman said.

Ryan Sawyers delivers his Facebook virtual town hall, June 20, 2017.

Sawyers said it was the day after the school board meeting*, when he sent the message to the clerk, “knowing no one was on the list yet.” However, he said he later found out that “some people had contacted the clerk before we had that list.”

At that time, according to Salzman, Sawyers engaged in a phone conversation with Urban.

Sawyers has since announced that he will now order Citizens’ Comment Time so that five citizens for, and five citizens against, the police are able to speak.

“I made the decision that both sides be represented,” Sawyers said in his town hall.

“We want it to be fair, and even more important, we want it to have the appearance of fairness for people like Bob Marshall,” Salzman said.

Salzman believes the chairman has the discretion to make such changes and the regulation affords the chairman such discretion.

“We’ve used this discretion before to move students to the top of the list. We’ve moved elected officials to the top of the list. This isn’t a new idea that we came up with in the 24 hours.”

Salzman said Marshall was made aware that he would be the first speaker, even before he sent his press release. He believes that the entire issue is an attempt to create chaos so to postpone the vote.

On his end, Marshall is claiming that Sawyers’ has broken with the division’s regulations, which could render the result of the vote null and void.

Marshall, said a Legislative Services attorney advised him that the Prince William School Board’s own regulations (133-1) in sections B and E, provide that persons are to speak in the order in which they have put in their requests to speak.

  1. Number of Speakers

Speakers shall be placed on a list in the order in which they notify the Clerk. If the number of speakers is to large to be reasonably accommodated, the Chairman may ask citizens to voluntarily combine their comments or submit them in writing to the School Board.

Within “E. Time Limitations” the regulation reads “speakers will be heard in the order in which their names were submitted to the Clerk: those who signed up in advance will be heard prior to those whose names were place on the list on the night of the meeting.”

According to Marshall, an attorney informed him that speakers “cannot be given precedence over any speakers who signed up with the Clerk to speak before the submission by the chair.”

Legal counsel further advised me that if the Board failed to follow its own regulations in adopting transgender policy changes, that failure could give rise to a court invalidation of such action.

However, another line in the regulation contradicts Marshall’s assertion. Regulation 133-1, A. says “Any deviation from these procedures shall be at the discretion of the School Board Chairman.”

It is unclear if that claus applies to all parts of the regulations.

Phil Kavits, Director of Communications for Prince William County Schools, said the school division intends to release the original list as it was before any changes were made to it.

“The list that existed prior to the Chairman’s message is currently being recreated based on records of when the requests originally came in. It is not yet available. We will be happy to provide it.”

He said the list is intended for the school board members so that they can make their decision regarding how to proceed.

Marshall sent a second press release, June 21 before 2:30 p.m., saying that he is refusing to be the first speaker at Citizens’ Comment Time.

Based on legal advice, I decline the Chairman’s invitation that I speak first during citizens time at tonight’s school board meeting considering Policy 060.  If I accepted, that would violate the legally binding policies (133-1) adopted by the Board regarding the order of speakers, policies which provide for no exceptions including for elected public officials.

Indeed the Chair in his June 8th text to the Board Clerk clearly indicated “No public officials are moving to the top.  NONE.  No dems.  No GOP.” Now, under apparent pressure, the Chairman has changed the order yet again to have 5 people in favor of the policy change and 5 against. Despite his attempt at more balance he is still violating School Board policy.

Salzman explained to Bristow Beat that the controversy is a distraction.

He said he hopes that some of the messages of community members, especially that of elected officials, do not have a negative effect on LGBTQ students who are vulnerable population.

“I think it’s a way to exploit people for votes by promoting hate,” Salzman said.

He said the non-discrimination revision is simply meant to make all students and staff members feel safe as they go about getting a good education at Prince William County Schools.

*We are still waiting to confirm that the date of the correspondence via Facebook Instant Message between Sawyers and Urban. We know it took place around noon. 

 

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