Published on -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM
Closed-door meetings have become the new norm for members of the Hays USD 489 Board of Education. The executive sessions, which are allowable under the Kansas Open Meetings Act, seem to take place at virtually every meeting.
While perfectly legal, the sessions strike us as incongruent with the board's aim to restore trust. And the amount of time spent out of the public eye is on a sharp incline.
Already this fiscal year, which began July 1, there have been five executive sessions to discuss non-elected personnel. The July 7 meeting featured three sessions totalling 60 minutes, while the July 21 meeting had 65 minutes of executive sessions. At this rate, the BOE will surpass last year's surprisingly high total.
The Hays Daily News reported in Sunday's paper the board logged a total of 24 hours, 38 minutes in executive session in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That was a seven-fold increase from the year before when only 3.5 hours were spent behind closed doors. It also was about four times more than was recorded in the 2011-12 school year.
For a board that just recently was debating whether it was in charge of hiring/firing all district employees or merely the superintendent, that is a lot of executive sessions to deal with non-elected personnel.
To be perfectly clear, we are not suggesting board members are doing anything illegal. Personnel matters of non-elected personnel is the first of seven reasons why a board can go into executive session. The other justifications include: Consultation with the body's attorney; employer-employee negotiations; confidential data relating to financial affairs or trade secrets; matters affecting a student, patient or resident of public institutions; preliminary discussions relating to real property acquisition; and security of a public body or agency.
The Open Meetings Act is equally clear there are no situations that require executive sessions. The decision to have one is discretionary.
We would implore the board of education to use more discretion -- and not have as many closed-door meetings. Open government is good government, and transparency should be one of any elected body's top priorities. Allowing the public and district employees to hear what is being deliberated would help diminish the unnecessarily high levels of suspicion that exist.
Let the sun shine brightly upon all endeavors the USD 489 BOE takes on.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry