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    Flunking First Amendment At School Board Candidates Forum...And Fixing It

    Updated: Includes statement from League of Women Voters Bea Antenore

    (March 31, 2006, updated, see below) -- regrets being unable to provide our readers with detailed coverage (as we often do with extended excerpts) of a public event on public property, a March 30 School Board candidates forum held at Hughes Middle School in California Heights.

    In our view, this was caused by a sheeplike deference to ignorantly wielded authority that disserved the public and those holding and seeking public office.

    What took place was not caused by the LB Unified School District or its administration...which when told what occurred moved swiftly to rectify the situation.

    In the end, we prevailed...but we are incensed about what was done to the public, to our readers...and we explain below what we believe voters deserve now. was among about three dozen people who attended the School Board candidates forum -- again, open to the public on public property -- with a digital camera (to bring you photos) and a tape recorder (to quote accurately what is said). These are the equivalent for us of a pen and paper.

    (So as not to disrupt proceedings, we routinely take photos without flash [hand-lightening and color-correcting each photo later] and without remote mikes [to not interfere with electronic equipment]).

    Within minutes of the first speaker opening, a representative of the LB branch of the League of Women Voters approached us and said pictures and taping weren't allowed. We brushed off the threat.

    The following then occurred, beginning with League of Women voters rep Bea Antenore (on mike) and publisher Bill Pearl:

    Ms. Antenore: I'm going to interrupt just a moment. This gentleman up front. If you're taping, that's against our rules and regulations...and unless you have releases from all of the people here, you cannot tape and that includes the League and that includes the PTA. I would prefer that you not tape anything unless you have those releases signed. I intend to tape. Thank you.

    [Publisher/reporter Bill Pearl hands her business card indicating]

    Ms. Antenore: Mr. Pearl, I will ask you to leave.

    Mr. Pearl: I will not leave. It's a public meeting. It's a public meeting.

    Ms. Antenore: I would prefer that you not tape, only if you get releases from all the people and releases from myself, the PTA and other people here. I do not want this being taped and you did nothing about asking us ahead of time.

    Mr. Pearl: I don't believe I have to.

    Ms. Antenore: So I'll have to hold this just for a few minutes. I would prefer that somebody come and ask Mr. Pearl to leave the room. [Nobody does.]

    [unidentified woman]: Perhaps we could hold the tape recorder for him.

    Mr. Pearl: No, I'll hold my tape recorder. Thank you.

    [unidentified woman]: Is it off?

    Mr. Pearl: No.

    Ms. Antenore: Is there a policeman out in the area somewhere?...The taping is not illegal but there was never permission given by our [inaudible] and the PTA...and that was not done, and so Mr. Pearl I'm sorry but you cannot do it.

    Mr. Pearl: I'm sorry but the First Amendment says I can...I think [what you're doing] is a disservice to the candidates...

    [Unidentified woman whispers to Pearl]: Mr. Pearl...can I speak with you for a moment just outside please?

    Mr. Pearl: No, not unless a policeman asks me to leave...[standoff continues]

    Alan Tolkoff: [rises from audience; former President, Wrigley Ass'n., and moderator of multiple candidate debates in current election cycle] May I offer a possible solution? He is here as a member of the press but since it is being recorded, why don't we simply ask the candidates if they have any objection and that may simply solve it right now?

    Ms. Antenore:: How do you feel about being taped and recorded? Mr. Ellis [candidate, LBUSD 3d district]?

    Mr. Ellis: I don't have a problem with being recorded...

    Mr. Deaton: [turned a bit to side of mike and thus hard to discern; indicates someone else sought to record and was denied and in that case "I would think 'no' means 'no' for everyone." wasn't aware of what transpired earlier, but in our view it's irrelevant.]

    [cross-talk, various individuals]...

    Ms. Antenore: The thing that I'm disturbed about is the fact that we will not see this tape and we could be extrapolated in some ways and it's not going to give the proper picture of what's going on at this forum, and unless I can see that whole tape and approve it, I would expect that it should not be done...

    Mr. Pearl: ...[I]t's so I can quote the candidates accurately. This is not the Peoples Republic of Long Beach. Let the forum continue so people can hear it and I can report it accurately. If it's inaccurate, the candidates will let me know.

    Ms. Antenore:: Will they see it?

    Mr. Pearl: I'll be posting it on I'm not going to be posting the entire tape.

    Ms. Antenore: How do you feel ladies and gentlemen?

    School Board Candidate (5th dist.) Florence Wilson: I think that we abide by the rules [turns to side of mike, inaudible].

    Ms. Antenore:: Mr. Choura [School Board incumbent, 5th dist].

    Schoolboard member Jim Choura: This is your forum. It should be your call.

    [crosstalk, making audibility difficult]

    Schoolboard member Mary Stanton: [A bit to side of mike, audibility difficult.] I agree that it's a League of Womens forum and I think that the rules should be observed.

    Mr. Pearl: Since the candidates have so expressed, that's fine. I think you're doing a disservice to the public. Good evening. [Exits the auditorium.]

    Sheeplike through all of this were representatives of the LB PTA (which sent us an email asking us to come cover the event.)

    Of course, this didn't stand. When LBUSD's administration learned what took place, they promptly contacted their security personnel who checked the permit and the facts and informed Ms. Antenore that Mr. Pearl had a right to be in the auditorium (with tape recorder, thank you)...and escorted him back inside.

    We regret to say we heard very little noteworthy by the tail end of the event. Ms. Antenore concluded by stating, "I'm sorry about what went on with Mr. Pearl but I really felt that unless we had permission from each of you to do this taping or filming that it was not proper for him to do this. But I've been corrected I suppose and it's a public meeting and nothing was listed on the permit so I think I've learned something about permits from now on."

    No. It's not about permits or Mr. Pearl. What took place was an unexpected -- but revealing -- pop-quiz on the public's rights...and some people on that panel flunked.

    We propose a make-up exam: a real LB School Board candidates' forum -- not the League's mummified format which inhibits candidate exchanges. We propose one that invites meaningful exchanges between candidates, presses for responsive responses, doesn't let cliches go unchallenged, one that lets the public ask questions on mike (instead of scrawling questions on cards). We suggest a panel comprised of the PT's Kevin Butler,'s Bill Pearl and whoever does education at the Gazettes...with an individual mike for each incumbent and challenger so they can actually interact and respond (what a concept)...and a wireless mike from the audience.

    If someone will commit to finding a venue for this and arranging it by April 4, we'll show up and find the bandwidth to put newsworthy portions on the internet so LB-Lakewood area voters can hear it on demand 24/7, until election day. [If the PT or others want to use their bandwidth to do this too, fine.]

    We think it sets a terrible example for LB schoolchildren and their parents to see LB elected officials and wanna-be's visibly afraid to speak up for the public's rights in a public forum. A more appropriately conducted forum for LBUSD candidates should be scheduled to show this isn't so...and recorded and posted on the web so it can be heard by LB-Lakewood voters outside the room.

    Update: At 6:43 p.m. on March 31, we received the following phone message from Ms. Antenore: "I blew it. My apologies. My most sincere apologies to you and I would never do that again..."

    [Comment: Thank you, Ms. Antenore.] [Web posted March 31, 6:58 p.m.]

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