Open Meetings Act applies to school boards, too

Published 1:14 am Saturday, May 29, 2010

We would be remiss in our public responsibilities if we did not take the city board of education to task for the manner in which it has conducted business in the past week.

On Thursday, the board gave local media approximately three hours notice of an “emergency meeting” at which there were two items on the agenda – amending the superintendent’s contract and hiring an interim superintendent.

When the board met, it quickly voted to amend the contract, making the superintendent a “data consultant” at her current rate of pay through the end of her contract in August 2011. The board voted on the action, and the subsequent action to hire an interim superintendent, without any discussion among the four members in attendance.

Yet they assured two members of the local media that they had not held a previous meeting about the issue.

Why, then, they were asked, was this action being taken?

“Because her attorney has been talking to our attorney.”

While we take board members at their word that they had not all assembled, clearly they had deliberated this issue. And Alabama’s Open Meetings Act makes it clear that when members of a governing body “deliberate” future actions, they are meeting.

Further, when government bodies do meet, they cannot even go into closed session to discuss the job performance of an individual who earns more than $50,000. Specifically, the Open Meetings Act calls for school boards to discuss issues related to the job of a school superintendent, in public.

On Friday, we asked two board members a second question we believe the public should know. How can a board that last week voted not to renew the contracts of five teachers based on a shortage of funding afford this week to pay two superintendents?

Board members said “no comment.”

Whether or not you agree with the outcome of the board’s actions, ask yourself this question: If you disagreed, would you want the board to act so secretly, or would you want them to be more accountable?

We believe the board should conduct the education business of this community in the proverbial “sunshine” of an open meeting, just as we believe the county commission and city councils should do so.