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Executive sessions violated law, state says

Staff writer

In a move that could have implications for other governmental bodies in the county, an assistant attorney general has agreed with the Record’s opinion that Centre’s school board violated state law when it met three times Feb. 1 in executive session.

The Record filed an official complaint with the AG’s office Feb. 6.

Lisa Mendoza, director of the office’s open government enforcement unit, wrote: “We agree that the board’s motion for executive session fell short of meeting all the statutory requirements for recessing into executive session. While the board’s motion contained a statutory justification and set out the time and place the open meeting would resume, it’s ‘statement describing the subjects to be discussed’ — ‘to discuss (non-elected) personnel’ — was merely a vague and generic summary of the subject(s).”

That violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Mendoza called it a technical violation, a “term of art adopted by the courts in discussing KOMA violations.”

The AG’s office contacted Superintendent Larry Geist with permission from the board’s attorney, Luke Sobba, of Kansas Association of School Boards. Geist also had reached out to the AG’s office on his own “to explain what happened and describe the remedial action he intended to recommend to the board that it take to resolve your concerns,” Mendoza wrote.

The board discussed individual employee performance in each executive session, Geist told the AG’s office. Although the board has adopted policies about executive session, “for unknown reasons, the superintendent and the board failed to refer to these policies when making the required motions,” Mendoza wrote.

Geist told the AG’s office that he intended to ensure the board’s compliance with state law and would request Sobba to present open meetings training at a future meeting.

“Because the superintendent readily admitted the board’s motions fell short of compliance and implemented remedial action to ensure this situation does not recur, we decline to pursue any formal enforcement action to resolve this matter,” Mendoza wrote, adding that her office would continue to monitor the board’s actions.

“It is important for public bodies and agencies to understand how the KOMA works and their role in implementing its requirements,” she wrote.

Marion City Council also has at times not provided a “short, plain statement” about why it needed to meet in executive session, especially when it called a series of executive sessions that led up to the termination of city administrator Mark Skiles. The Record has filed a complaint about a Feb. 6 executive session to “discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel, specifically the city clerk.”

That request remains pending.

Mendoza requested more information from the Record by April 3.

Last modified March 1, 2023

 

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