By Jon A. Brake
Two months ago Riley County Attorney Bill Kennedy was ready to throw the book at the Manhattan - Ogden School Board for Open Meetings violations. The School Board members had attended Special Budget Committee Meetings which were closed to the public.
The only way the District got out of the situation was when an agreement was made between Kennedy and Superintendent Tom Hawk that had Hawk writing a letter explaining the problem and agreeing not to meet in closed meetings in the future.
The letter was not made public by Kennedy or Hawk until teachers stood at a School Board Meeting and asked why it had not been released.
In Hawk's letter he explained what had happened and then ended the letter with these two paragraphs:
"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 cousulting and obtaning 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." (Printed in the May 24, 2001 issue of the Manhattan Free Press www.kansas.net/~freepress)
That pledge lasted less than two months.
Thursday, a meeting was held by the Board negotiating team. Board members Joleen Hill and Roger Brannan are on the team and were in attendance. The meeting started at 4:00 p.m. and at 4:15 new Board member Dorothy Soldan arrived to "lister and learn".
The School District's staff knew they had a problem and in stead of asking Soldan to leave they tried to make the meeting ligitamate. The District e-mailed the Free Press telling of the 4:00 p.m. meeting and the arrival of Soldan. The e-mail was sent at 4:17 just two minutes later.
In an attempt to get around the situation the e-mail stated: "The delay in notification is due to the fact that other than the negotiating team BOE (Board Of Education) members, other members are under no obligation to notify us in advance that they plan to attend."
This is the same senero that the Superintendent said would not happen again. A committee meeting was being held (without notifying the public) and other Board Members show up.
It is obviouse from the e-mail and from talking to the District staff, they have no idea of what constitues an Open Meeting and when that law has been vioated.
The Kansas Open Meetings act is very clear on what consitiues an Open Meeting: "As used in this act, 'meeting' means any gathering, assembly, telephone call or any other means of interactive communication by a majority of a quorum of the membership of a body or agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business or affairs of the body or agency." K.S.A. 75-4317a.
Three members of the Manhtattan - Ogden School Board is a "majority of a quorum".
In the e-mail it states: "I wanted to let you know that an "open negotiations meeting" is currently being held." First of all an open meeting must be announced before the meeting starts not seventeen minutes into the meeting. Second this was not an Open Meeting. When questioned about the meeting staff told the Free Press that the meeting had been opened to "Teachers". When told an Open Meeting had to be open to the Public the responce was: "Oh, No, we don't want that."
It is time for the Board to understand the Kansas Open Meetings Act. It is time for the District's staff to understand the Kansas Open Meetings Act. And if they can not or will not, it is time for a Judge to explain the Kansas Open Meetings Act.