Local government is required to follow the law
For at least the past 25 years, the CLARION NEWS has attempted to hold boards of supervisors, borough councils, school boards and other elected officials accountable for acting in accordance with state Open Meeting laws and the Sunshine Law.
State law does allow for closed-door discussions. But the limits for such sessions are very narrow.
Allowable closed-door sessions include:
4Personnel can be used to discuss specific employees (people) and their employment.
This provision does not extend to general discussions of policy like creating a new position, job descriptions, budget concerns, etc.
It is reserved for discussion specific current, former and prospective employees, and the employee has the option to request the discussion happen at a public meeting.
4The purchase or lease (acquisition) of real estate, up until an option to purchase has been obtained (it protects the public's purchasing power).
This provision does not allow private deliberations about the sale or other divestiture of public property.
4To discuss pending or threatened litigation with their attorney or professional advisor. It does not allow private settlement conferences with opposing parties, and it does not allow private discussions with attorneys for issues that are not part of pending or threatened litigation.
4The discuss matters required by law to be confidential like FERPA, the federal law that requires schools to keep student specific academic and disciplinary records confidential.
4For academics admissions and standing, for state owned and state-related colleges and universities.
Also, the School Code was amended in June to allow school boards to discuss issues that would risk the safety and security of the school or individuals.
In the past few weeks, the Clarion County Conservation District Board of Directors and the Clarion-Limestone School Board separately met in "executive session."
The conservation district board met behind closed doors to discuss budget issues.
The C-L board didn't say why it met in executive session until after the talk was held. It was then announced the closed door conversation was for "personnel" and "contract" matter.
It is the contention of the CLARION NEWS both sessions were improper.
There is no reason for a governmental entity spending taxpayer dollars and the conservation district is such an entity -- to hold budget discussions in executive session.
The C-L school board can indeed meet in executive session to discuss personnel issues and contractual matters.
But such a session should be announced before it is held. And, as stated above, simply stating an executive session id for "personnel" or "contract matters" isn't enough.
The board must state what the personnel matter concerns not who but what. Is it for job performance discussion? Is it for disciplinary matters? Is it to discuss a person's qualifications for hiring?
Is the contract matter a grievance? Is it a negotiation session?
Nor is simply not wanting to state an opinion in public an acceptable reason for an executive session.
The public has elected an official to represent their interests. The official has asked for and accepted the job. Making those tough decisions come with the territory. And the officials should state a reason for those decisions and own up to them.
It's the right thing to do and it's the law.
That's how we see it. We welcome your opinion.