School board reviews open meetings act laws
Members of the USD 204 Board of Education Monday reviewed the regulations behind the Kansas Open Meetings Act but didn’t ask many questions.
The board reviewed the act in a workshop prior to the open meeting after The Chieftain questioned the legality of an executive session in July. Board members learned about what meetings should be open and when executive sessions are appropriate under the statute.
Board members thanked the attorney general’s office for conducting the meeting via conference call, but still seemed unsure they had committed any wrongdoing.
“Did we really violate the open meetings act?” Board President Ray Cox asked after the call was ended, inducing laughs from some board members. “Think about it. No comment.”
The session was conducted at the request of The Chieftain, which last summer questioned the legality of an executive session carried out by the board in July, prior to the appointment of new member Jeff Barger. After a preliminary investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, Charles Thomas, board attorney, and Cox agreed the session — in which members discussed candidates to fill a vacancy on the board — should not have been conducted in private. They answered questions about the closed-door session and agreed the board would undergo training on the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
On Monday, members listened to a presentation from Lisa Mendoza, assistant attorney general, who explained what is considered a meeting of the governing body, including serial communications, such as forwarded e-mails.
“If it eventually reaches a majority of membership of your (governing) body, you may have inadvertently tripped over the open meetings act,” she said.
For executives sessions, an open meeting first must be convened, and motions must be made to go into the session. No binding actions may be taken in executive session, but consensus is allowed. The governing body must go back into open meeting and make a formal vote to take action.
In the motion, the justification for the session and the general subject must be mentioned, as well as the estimated length of the session.
“If you run out of time … if you say you’re going to do 10 minutes and you reach that 10 minutes, you must come back out into open session,” Mendoza said. “You cannot just continue or vote in the executive session to go another 10 minutes.”
Acceptable justifications are for non-elected personnel matters; consultation with attorney in which the attorney must be present and it must be an attorney/client privileged subject; employer/employee negotiations; confidential data relating to financial affairs; matters affecting a student, patient or resident, who can request that hearing be open; preliminary discussions for acquisition of real property; and security measures.
A citizen, county or district attorney or the attorney general can enforce the open meetings act. Several remedy measures can be taken to be compliant with the law, and penalties can be a fine of up to $500 per person per violation.
“It’s easy to get tripped up, the way the open meetings act is set out, it can be confusing,” Mendoza said. “The better course of action is to ask in advance what you can do as opposed to doing it.”
During its regular meeting, the board:
• Discussed concerns of teachers at Bonner Springs High School about the student grading system in the district’s Skyward grading software. The board agreed to put the item on the agenda of a future meeting.
• Heard an update on the possibility of new bleachers at the football stadium. Robert VanMaren, superintendent, said bids would be sent out Feb. 6, and the item should come back to board in March to decide if members want to move forward with it.
• Recognized Clark Middle School vocal music teacher Pam McGuire and CMS math teacher Sarah Andeverde with Education Foundation Honoring Excellence awards.
• Heard a presentation from Opaa Food Management of Chesterfield, Mo., concerning the district’s food services contract. The board approved accepting a request for proposals from the company.
• Approved continuation of the early retirement incentive.