District officials shine light on closed session preceding board appointment
A closed-door session in which Bonner Springs-Edwardsville school board members heard recommendations on applicants for a board opening was without controversy or acrimony, Board President Ray Cox indicated Friday.
Cox and Charles Thomas, board attorney, sat Friday for an on-the-record interview about the board’s July 18 executive session The Chieftain had regarded as improper. The executive session in question had preceded — without public discussion — the board’s unanimous selection of Jeff Barger to fill a vacancy on the board. The executive session and subsequent vote prompted The Chieftain to ask the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office to investigate whether the board had violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
“We’re admitting that we advertently or inadvertently should not have done this in executive session,” Thomas said Friday.
Cox said the closed session was fairly cut-and-dried in its content: A three-member committee of board members gave its recommendation on who should fill the vacancy created by the death in April of board member Lewis Wood.
Committee members Cox, then-Board President Olliea Jarrett and Jeff Tinberg had conducted interviews with both applicants, Barger and Pat Wheeler, prior to the July 18 meeting.
In the executive session, Cox said, committee members told their fellow board members they “couldn’t go wrong with either one” of the applicants. But the committee recommended Barger, largely on the strength of his near-miss run for the board in April and his past attendance at numerous board meetings, Cox said.
“This type of thing led us to recommend Jeff,” Cox said.
Cox said he couldn’t remember specific comments or questions from board members during the closed session but added, “It was all so positive; there was nothing negative about anyone.”
The full board, Cox said, “respected the committee’s decision.” Later, Cox added, “There wasn’t any controversy; it was just agreement.”
Friday’s interview was conducted at the urging of the District Attorney’s Office. At the D.A.’s suggestion, the board also has agreed to conduct a work session in the near future in which members will undergo a “refresher course” on the requirements of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Thomas said members likely would set a date for the work session at their Aug. 22 meeting.
At their meeting this past Monday, board members rescinded Barger’s appointment, renominated him to the post and unanimously approved the appointment. Those actions, Thomas said, also were at the direction of the D.A.’s office.
“We’re pleased the board and its attorney have agreed the executive session was improper and have taken steps to bring this process out into the public, where it belonged from the start. We’re also looking forward to the board getting training on the ins and outs of the Kansas Open Meetings Act,” said John Taylor, Chieftain editor. “We appreciate the response of the District Attorney’s Office and assistant district attorney Edmond Brancart, who helped bring this to a resolution.”
— For more on this story, pick up The Chieftain’s Aug. 11 issue.