David Dodd 2:53 a.m., May 21
According to many people who attended the July 23 Sweetwater Union High School District meeting, the majority of the trustees continue to abrogate the rights of public speakers.
Kevin O'Neill, a member of Sweetwater's Proposition O Bond Oversight Committee, and a former member of the Chula Vista Growth Management Oversight Commission and the Chula Vista Planning Commission, said in a July 25 interview, "I had to wait five hours for the public communication portion of the meeting and then I was only given 60 seconds to speak."
When O'Neill tried to finish his comment, which ran over the one-minute limit, he was flanked by two security guards. According to O'Neill and other onlookers, the guards were ready to drag him from the podium.
O'Neill was trying to explain to the board what he had to go through to get information about the controversial dirt pile at Southwest High School. As a member of the bond oversight committee and as a person who has expertise in construction, O'Neill had offered to assist the district in interpreting the soil report. However, he was told to file a public record request if he wanted to see the report.
In the July 25 interview, O'Neill observed that "the level of dysfunction between the board and the public was shocking." He likened the board meeting to World War I trench warfare, and said, "The board, by limiting public comment, has built a moat around itself. The staff is caught in the middle and has developed bunker mentality."
"It's an unfortunate situation," O'Neill continued. "There are a lot of dedicated people in the district trying to do good work but their leadership is getting in the way."
At the July 23 meeting, board president Pearl Quiñones reduced speakers' time from the three minutes allotted by board policy down to two minutes — then down to one minute.
Trustee Bertha Lopez challenged the arbitrary shortening of speakers' time and asked to have the board vote on the issue. However, Quiñones asserted she had obtained the opinion of legal counsel to support her action.
In a July 26 interview, Redus Hall, an irate parent who attended the meeting, stated, "This was my first time at a Sweetwater meeting and the board is a disgrace. There were 30 families there who wanted to speak about the lack of bus transportation for students. The board knew there were a lot of upset people, so they cut us down to five speakers. It seemed as if they wanted to punish the public."
Hall complained that board members did not pay attention to speakers, "They got up and walked off or didn't look at us." He said, "The only board member who seems to care is [Bertha] Lopez."