Parkerfield Mayor Michael Bergagnini recently asked to speak at a Cowley College Board of Trustees meeting, but his request was denied.
Cowley College has a longstanding policy that limits community members’ ability to interact with the trustees during meetings.
This policy states that “persons having other matters to be brought before the board should submit these matters in writing to the president at least 72 hours in advance of the meetings, in order that items may be placed on the agenda.”
It also allows the board chair to limit both the content and length of citizen comments.
Bergagnini’s request, while submitted in a timely fashion, was denied based on the topic he wanted to bring to the trustees.
Personnel exception cited
Bergagnini’s request to speak to the board was regarding an employee evaluation form used to complete Cowley College President Dennis Rittle’s annual evaluation.
In documents he sent to the college, requesting the opportunity to speak at the Feb. 19 meeting, he brings up the college’s performance, financial health, enrollment and other factors he would like the Board of Trustees to take into consideration when evaluating Rittle’s performance.
- quality of education;
- student satisfaction and success;
- staff satisfaction;
- cost to student and school.
This request was denied in an email from Board Secretary Tiffany Vollmer prior to the meeting. “I received your voicemails requesting permission to speak at Monday’s Board meeting and I shared your request with the Board Chair,” her email states.
“Upon direction from the Chair, it has been determined that this is a personnel matter and is not open for discussion. Personnel matters are only to be handled in executive session.”
Bergagnini denial upheld
Bergagnini’s request was denied again during the meeting by Board Chair JoLynn Foster.
“I feel my rights were abdicated,” Bergagnini, a former candidate for the Board of Trustees, said Feb. 21.
He said he will ask permission to speak in the future on other issues he finds pertinent.
“I have the right to stand up and be heard,” Bergagnini said.
Foster was not able to be contacted for comment.
Other board policies
No other taxing entity in the Arkansas City area requires prior notice in order for taxpayers to speak at its meetings.
The City Commission of Arkansas City, Cowley County Commission and USD 470 Board of Education all allow individuals to sign up to speak right up until the start of their meetings.
Other community colleges in the state have the same policy as those entities, such as Butler Community College and Pratt Community College.
Cowley College’s policy regarding advance notice of public comments was called into question during a candidate forum last October.
During this forum, a citizen asked whether the policy could be eliminated. All of the trustee candidates said they would be willing to do so.
Four of the candidates — Ned Graham, Bob Juden, Brian Sanderholm and Gary Wilson — now serve on the Board of Trustees.
No public efforts to eliminate the policy have taken place.
A video of this forum can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMrmAuf3t8M&list=PLt8qcdRK48FDjYIzRU1oEcgdWo_Luvj4_.