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Gazette: County school board violated Open Meetings law at Aug. 3 work session

NC GAZETTE / WBRT RADIO
STAFF REPORT

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 — The Nelson County Gazette has filed a complaint alleging that the Nelson County Board of Education violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act at its working session held Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, at the district’s Central Office.

DIANE BREEDING, BOARD OF EDUCATION CHAIR

The complaint alleges that school board chair Diane Breeding failed to follow the Open Meetings Act’s provisions that dictate the proper method for entering into a meeting that is closed to the public and media.

The Open Meetings Act requires that before an agency can discuss business outside of a public meeting, the agency must announce the closed session in a specific manner.

The Act allows a public agency to discuss certain subjects in a closed meeting as long as:

– notice is given in the regular meeting of the general nature of the business to be discussed;

– the agency states the reason for the closed session;

– the agency cites the specific exception authorizing the closed session. The Act has 13 narrow exemptions that allow an agency to hold a meeting closed to the public.

A closed session may be held only after a motion is made and carried in open session, and no final action may be taken in closed session.

“The complaint isn’t intended to suggest the board’s chair or the board itself has any intention of trying to hide what they are doing,” Gazette editor Jim Brooks said. “The board has shown itself to be responsive to the public’s input, and the board has repeatedly demonstrated its resolve in tackling tough issues and making difficult decisions.”

The Open Meetings Act is a critical component of Kentucky law that insures transparency and accountability in the conduct of a public agency’s business, Brooks explained.

“The Open Meetings Act supports the idea that public policy is public business, and other than the narrow exemptions the Act provides for closed meetings, it is the duty of public agencies such as the board of education to conduct its business in a public forum.”

REMEDIAL ACTIONS. The complaint lists a series of remedial actions to correct the Open Meetings Act violation. These requested actions include a public acknowledgement by the board chair of the violation; a public statement that discloses the general nature of the business discussed in the Aug. 3 closed session, the board’s reason for the closed session with the specific exemption as required by the Act, and the actions — if any — the board took following the closed meeting.

The complaint also seeks to have the board members presented with an updated copy of “Your Duty Under the Law,” a publication from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office that instructs public officials as to the requirements of the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. The complaint also requests the text of the Open Meetings portion of “Your Duty Under the Law” be read into the minutes of the meeting. The complaint seeks to have the board’s attorney (or his designee) review the Open Meetings Act with the members of the board in ensure they are aware of its requirements and duties as it pertains to each of them as a board member, board chair or vice-chair. And finally, the meeting minutes will reflect the board’s violations of the Act, and the measures the board takes to remedy the violation.

RESPONSE. The complaint was hand delivered to the district’s Central Office Friday afternoon, Aug. 11. The board has three business days in which to prepare a written response.

NEXT UP. The Nelson County Board of Education will next meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in the board meeting room at the district’s Central Office on Wildcat Lane.

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