Executive session may have violated Open Meetings Act
The Chieftain is questioning the legality of an executive session Monday night at the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School Board meeting in which board members apparently arrived at a consensus to fill a vacancy on the board.
After the 10-minute session, members voted unanimously to appoint Jeff Barger to fill an open seat created by the death in April of Lewis Wood. The other applicant for the seat was Pat Wheeler.
The Kansas Open Meetings Act allows members of public boards to meet behind closed doors to discuss non-elected personnel, but board members are neither non-elected nor are they personnel, noted John Taylor, Chieftain editor.
“We believe this is a violation of Open Meetings Act,” Taylor said. “The selection of a board member is clearly a matter of public interest and the discussion leading up to the vote should have been conducted in open session.”
Mike Merriam, a Topeka-based attorney with more than 30 years of experience in media law, said the law is clear on the matter.
“I’ve heard of that situation quite a number of times with boards around the state,” said Merriam. “But they can’t do that. … They do; it’s just not proper.”
Board member Ray Cox, who made the motion to go into executive session, said Wednesday the executive session was called at the request of fellow board member Jeff Tinburg, who Cox said was concerned about the comfort level of discussing applicants publicly.
“It’s unfortunate a board member or members might have been uncomfortable about discussing applicants in public. But if board members were allowed to go behind closed doors every time they were uncomfortable, little business would be done in open session,” Taylor said.
The Chieftain will be contacting the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the session.
“We want to make clear The Chieftain has no quarrel with either of the two applicants for the office,” Taylor said. “But elected boards must know they need to do the public’s business in public.”