Riley County Attorney Bill Kennedy has been investigating the Manhattan School Board for breaking the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The Board Members served on committees appointed by District Superintendent Tom Hawk. The Committees met several times but the last two times three or more of the Board Members were present.
The meetings were not open to the public and it is a violation of the Act but if taken to court the members can only be fined up to $500.
Here is the letter from Superintendent Hawk to the County Attorney which defused the situation:
Dear Mr. Kennedy:
This will confirm our agreement to resolve the pending complaint about closed meetings of the District's budget advisory committees and the advisory/steering committee.
As a history of the issue, I created ten budget advisory committees and one advisory/steering committee to assist in the budget reduction for Unified School District 383.
The budget advisory committees were composed of community members, school board members, teachers and an administrative person of the district who served as the head of the committee. Each budget advisory committee was assigned a different area of the budget and their purpose was to gather information, evaluate options, and make recommendations to me.
The advisory/steering committee was composed of myself and community members who were selected solely by me and included two members of the Board of education and the two associate superintendents. This committee was to meet with me to discuss budget issues, analyze different options and advise me.
You believe that because every board member was actively involved in these committees, this constitutes a majority of a quorum of a public body subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, K.S.A. 75-4317, and that while there was only one board member on each of the four budget advisory committees, and two board members on the advisory.steering committee, the board members participated in a meeting when on two separate occasions they came together as a group to discuss the budget. You agree that although the board members attended these meetings, only the committee heads spoke. Finally, it is your opinion that because the board members can not do indirectly through an agent what they are prohibited from doing directly, the closed meetings constituted a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
We did not intend to commit any such violations but such may have occurred. However, the board members and I acted in good faith and proceeded with the meetings only after consulting and obtaining advice from counsel.
Nevertheless, in order to avoid litigation and to conclude this matter amicably and in a satisfactory manner, the District agrees that there will be no more such closed meetings in the future.
We appreciate your cooperation in bringing this matter to conclusion.
Tom Hawk, Ph.D
Superintendent of Schools