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Norwalk school board takes steps toward transparency

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Steven Colarossi talks about changes to BOE policies Wednesday night.

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – Parents who think information has been hard to retrieve from Norwalk’s Board of Education should take heart – given the policies that were updated at Tuesday night’s meeting. You may even be able to watch the board’s meetings on television soon.

First, if you’re brave enough to take the lectern in front of the board and ask a question, you may get an answer. Members are now allowed to speak back to public speakers, if it is done in an orderly way, after the citizen has finished speaking.

Also, all pertinent documents will now be attached to minutes that are provided online.

But if you’re hoping to read everything that was said during the meeting, you’re out of luck.

Members of the public were concerned that items that were discussed were not appended to the minutes, Policy Committee Chairman Steven Colarossi said as he introduced the proposed changes. “We feel very strongly as a committee that we want contracts and any handouts to be attached to the minutes that are recorded and put online.”

Making detailed notes about what was said by whom was a different issue for Colarossi, who said approving the minutes at the following meeting would become time consuming.

“We get a little long-winded, like I am doing now, and we want what we have said preserved in the record,” he said. “However, when our speeches get preserved in the record verbatim, the person who has the opposing viewpoint should, in all fairness, have their viewpoint preserved in the verbatim transcript. That could lead to very arduous minute reviews.”

Sue Haynie was the only board member who voted against the revisions. She applauded the attachment of documents but said the minutes are “the only way the public really knows what we are saying.”

The board makes recordings, but the public is not known to go to City Hall to listen to them, Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona said, even though they are available.

The proposed budget includes $3,000 more for minutes, Haynie said, wondering why there is a “very arbitrary and vague” restriction on public information.

Heidi Keyes wondered what had become of a plan to videotape board meetings, given that they are now being held in the Common Council chambers, which has video taping equipment. Mayor Richard Moccia said a grant to upgrade the equipment included $2,000 to train people to use it, and that hiring high school students might be an option. He said he would check on the progress.

“I think that will make it transparent, have it all be televised,” Keyes said.

Moccia said the council has faced similar problems with minutes, as some people try to make revisions when the minutes are approved at the next meeting.

“People try to read what they wanted to say into the minutes, when that was not actually said in the meeting,” he said. “Without listening to the tape, you don’t know what was actually said.”

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