Wayland school officials, board twice violated Open Meetings Act

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.

Wayland Union School officials and at least four members of the Board of Education apparently don’t take the Open Meetings Act very seriously. Even after I helped them ward off holding an illegal special meeting last June, they held two illegal meetings in the last week.

I suppose school officials will deflect this criticism as just a couple of minor hiccups.

The school board met Saturday, Jan. 31, for a strategic planning session and Monday evening, Feb. 2, for a student expulsion hearing. The problem in both cases was that neither was properly posted on the Internet at least 18 hours in advance. To be sure, they were not customary public meetings, but as was pointed out last summer, all school districts that maintain a web site must post notices of all meetings on the Internet at least 18 hours prior, according to a state law passed in December 2012.

The board called a special meeting last June, but I informed a school official about the violation and it was canceled as a result, thereby avoiding that unpleasantness. But these two times were different.

The law states: “Public notice shall be posted at least 18 hours before the meeting on the public body’s website that is fully accessible to the public (if the public body directly or indirectly maintains an official internet presence that includes monthly or more frequent updates of public meeting agendas or minutes). The public notice on the website shall be included on either the homepage or on a separate webpage dedicated to public notices for non-regularly scheduled public meetings and accessible via a prominent and conspicuous link on the website’s homepage that clearly describes its purpose for public notification of those non-regularly scheduled public meetings.”

The law firm of Lusk & Albertson says, “Previously, the OMA required that public notice of a special meeting be posted at the principal office of the entity holding the meeting. For public school districts, the principal office is generally the district’s administration building. PA 528 slightly enhances this requirement, and the OMA now provides that public notice of a special meeting must be posted at the principal office and on the Internet if that public body maintains an official web site.”

The intent of this legislation was to encourage municipalities that have web sites to use them to post special meeting notices as another way to let the public know about them, especially in cases in which there isn’t enough time to post notices in a weekly newspaper of record.

Even if notices of the meeting were posted on the door at the administrative office, that is insufficient to comply with the law. Besides, must the public go to that building every day to check to see if there’s a special meeting? If the Internet is available to communicate quickly, use it in the name of transparency.

Four members of the board, Gary Wood, Nancy Thelen, Tom Salingue and Teresa Dobry, and administrators cannot argue they didn’t know about the law insisting they publish special meeting and work session notices on the Internet. Merely posting a meeting notice on the door was a great way to make sure virtually nobody showed up. Now that we have the Internet, we, the public, rightfully have a better chance of knowing when meetings are occurring.

The intent of the Open Meetings Act is to make sure public governmental bodies conduct the public’s business in front of the public instead of behind closed doors. There are certain specific conditions that permit executive or closed sessions.

Those who call these violations minor hiccups show me gross disrespect for the law. I asked the school board and administrators last summer not to do this again. But they did. And that makes them scofflaws.


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