Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD must obey the law

The publicís business ought to be conducted in public.

It seems obvious to all but some of those who conduct the publicís business.

That includes Tim Clark, school board president of the Pulaski County Special School District board, some of his fellow board members and the boardís lawyer.

Itís laid out in specifics by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Not the Freedom of Information Suggestion or the Freedom of Information Good Idea or the Freedom of Information Wontcha Please. Itís a law, and violators may be fined, jailed or both.

Thatís apparently of little concern to the PCSSD board.

It continues to meet illegally in executive session, flaunting the section of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act pertaining to executive sessions.

Having read, but apparently not understood, either the wording or the intent of the law, Clark continues to believe that if he invokes the magic word ďpersonnel,Ē that the board members may then meet in secret, talk about anything they wish and emerge without ever saying what they said or did.

Some school board members have confirmed that they routinely violate the provisions of the FOI Act in executive session.

The Freedom of Information Act basically allows the board to meet in executive session to consider hiring Joe Schmo, firing Joe or disciplining him.

It may not meet to consider whether or not to cut custodial jobs, add assistant principals, to expand a search for a superintendent or to talk about a union contract, even if Joe Schmo is a custodian, an assistant principal, a candidate for superintendent or a union member.

As far as we can tell, the districtís attorney, Jay Bequette, has yet to give the board an opinion it doesnít want to hear and to our knowledge has never answered a query about going into executive session by opining that it canít.

Hereís what the law says, in part, about executive sessions:

(c)(1) Executive sessions will be permitted only for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any public officer or employee. The specific purpose of the executive session shall be announced in public before going into executive session.

(3) Executive sessions must never be called for the purpose of defeating the reason or the spirit of this chapter.

Any person who negligently violates any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars ($200) or thirty (30) days in jail, or both, or a sentence of appropriate public service or education, or both.

Representatives of every newspaper that regularly cover the PCSSD school board have challenged the boardís executive sessions, most of them frequently.

Itís time for the board to obey the law or be sued.