NP trustees say no public comment

Published 11:16 am Wednesday, February 22, 2023

In a 3-2 vote, the North Panola School District Board of Trustees last week resolved to keep citizens from addressing the board during open meetings.

The matter arose when two trustees, Verna Hunter and Debra Armstrong, attempted to bring to the table a discussion about the official residence of board president Trosiki Pettis. They maintain that Pettis, a school principal in Tunica County, lives in DeSoto County and used a family member’s address to qualify for election.

Pettis says his primary residence is in Panola County, and has been able to avoid the topic during open board meetings because he has not approved the matter as an agenda item. As board president he sets the agenda and runs the meetings.

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At last Thursday’s regular board meeting, Hunter and Armstrong took the opportunity of using one agenda item – the approval of the meeting’s agenda – to try to start a discussion. 

A motion to amend the agenda to include discussion of Pettis’ residence failed 3-2 with trustees Patricia Lamar and Jennette Jackson voting with Pettis to deny the amendment. 

Hunter and Armstrong tried a different tactic, making a motion to allow citizens to address the board at a specific time during board meetings. The Board of Trustees, before the pandemic, allowed public comment at the end of every meeting, usually limiting comments to three or five minutes.

A notice on the North Panola School District’s official website currently states: School Board meetings and work sessions are open to the public. Citizens wishing to address the Board may do so at the regular monthly meetings. 

A sign-up sheet listing name, address and topic will be placed at the entrance to the boardroom. Persons who wish to address the Board are requested to sign up prior to the start of the Business portion of the meeting.

In addition to citizen comment periods at monthly meetings, the Board will schedule Public Forums and Public Hearings. Such forums and hearings will be announced in accordance with the Code of Mississippi.

That policy was suspended in 2020 when fear of Covid virus transmission was a threat. Since then, the policy has not been officially reversed and currently no public comment is allowed.

Hunter and Armstrong hoped to have the policy overturned and then use allotted time to themselves address the board publicly in an attempt to have Pettis defend his stated residency standing.