Events surrounding the May 13 Board of Education meeting are being challenged as potentially violating the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Applied Arts instructor Lee Imonen is questioning the reasons behind the college’s decisions.
- The administration limited the number of people permitted in the Boardroom.
- Public Safety prevented people from standing near the Boardroom window.
- After several requests to do so, the administration did not change the venue.
LCC Vice President Brian Kelly stated that he had been approached by many people about the potential danger of allowing too many people in the Boardroom. When asked their names, he responded saying “I won’t do that, because [they are] community members and members of the Safety Committee.”
Imonen said that at some point, it becomes a free speech issue when, for the first time ever, the number of people allowed in the Boardroom is limited and those standing along the window are moved.
Kelly said the Boardroom capacity is 68. “The Fire Marshal sets the code for how many people can be in there, and I made the decision that we had to move back to that number,” he said.
The administration made accommodations for the overflow of people to view the proceedings on a video screen in Building 2. About ten people remained outside and stood on a balcony close to the Boardroom window. Public Safety asked them to move at the request of Kelly, who called the balcony “unsafe” and “not designed for pedestrian traffic.”
Closing off the external balcony had never been done before, according to Imonen, who contended that the balcony is legally up to code and has a legal railing. “It’s all made of concrete and is strong enough to fit as many people who can fit on the balcony,” he said.
Imonen questioned whose job it is to determine whether something is a safety issue. Kelly is Public Safety Chief Jace Smith’s boss, he said, commenting that if Kelly says something is unsafe, Smith agrees.
“There was active construction going on at the time,” Smith said, emphasizing that it was a safety issue. He commented that he was offended at the implication that he was being dishonest “… and a kind of lackey for the administration.”
Imonen questioned why the tape was no longer in place if the area is unsafe. “If it was a safety consideration on that evening because it was a construction zone, then why wasn’t the tape up before and since?”
Responding to the idea that Public Safety would interfere with protesters, Smith said “You think we’re going to follow an illegal order? You think we are going to suppress people’s right for free speech? We would never do that.”
Imonen said it was a political maneuver in order to move people away from the view of the board, calling it a First Amendment issue. “We have the right to protest,” he said.
Smith adamantly denied being complicit in administrative politics. “I’m not going to be used for somebody’s political agenda,” he said. “I’m not exactly a darling with the administration.”
The tape employed to prevent people returning to the balcony read “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS.”
“I didn’t know we had any police line tape,” Smith said. “I knew that we had crime scene tape … it was the first thing the officer could lay his hands on. It had nothing to do with what was going on in the room.”
Smith emphasized that Public Safety operates independently and that it wouldn’t have much utility if it didn’t. “It’s really important for people to have confidence, first of all that we’re being truthful, and that we’re following the law for everybody,” he said.
When unsafe situations are pointed out by anyone, Public Safety responds, Smith said.
Imonen believes that other motives are hidden under the guise of safety. “I find those kinds of things to be convenient excuses that the college uses regularly,” he said.
When the administration announced that not everyone would be permitted into the Boardroom, several people requested that the meeting be moved to either the Center for Meeting and Learning or the Performing Arts Building.
“The board had made the decision to hold the meeting in the Boardroom,” Kelly said. “We’re going to look at alternative venues for that. It’s very difficult sometimes with those PA systems to hear people. We have two board members with hearing impairments, and they feel that that’s the best space for them.”
Imonen commented that he once had fairly high respect for Kelly. However, his “absolute refusal to even recognize the need to move to a different venue to accommodate more people was a new low for the administration,” he said.
In the past, when a lot of people were expected to attend, the administration moved the meeting to a performance hall, Imonen explained, adding that this time the administration didn’t even entertain the idea. Rather, they offered different excuses. For example, moving the meeting so late might violate the law.
The administration’s tactic, Imonen said, was to discourage people from showing up.
Kelly said he didn’t attempt to change the meeting venue because time was limited. He said that he was unsure of the capacity of the CML, which he said he believed was booked that night. He commented that he wasn’t sure about the performing arts building.
Kelly characterized the situation as difficult. “I think we can explore different options with the board, but I think those will take time,” he said, adding that the June 10 Board of Education meeting will be held in the Boardroom with overflow into another building, as happened in May.
Imonen called the administration’s claim that they wanted people to be involved “weak and bogus.” He commented that board members had their backs to the screen and that the audio quality was poor, which prevented people in the overflow room from hearing what was going on.
That hearing-impaired board members needed to stay in the Boardroom because they need assistance in accordance with the American Disabilities Act was another administrative excuse, according to Imonen. “There are plenty of other venues that meet ADA requirements,” he said.
Imonen commented that there’s a lot of pressure on the administration over the program cuts, and that’s why they are taking these steps now; they are attempting to control the message. “I think the administration would like to silence any message in opposition so the board doesn’t have any other voices to listen to,” he said.
There’s growing momentum against the way business is done at the college and the administration doesn’t want it to reach a critical mass, Imonen said. Public pressure is the only means people currently have, he said, and the administration wants it to go away.