In a recent post we commented on the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ failure to learn from the child fatality records debacle that resulted in the courts’ imposition of more than $1 million in penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs as well as a strongly worded Court of Appeals’ opinion in which the court expressed its “exasperation at the Cabinet’s systematic and categorical disregard for the rule of law.”
It was therefore refreshing to witness Kentucky Department of Education general counsel and associate commissioner Kevin Brown provide clear, concise and correct guidance on the application of the open meetings and records laws to the members of the Charter School Advisory Council at the counsel’s inaugural meeting on July 24.
Mr. Brown delineated the members’ obligation to comply with both laws in the discharge of their official duties, focusing on the prohibition on the use of conference calls to conduct council business.
This was a lesson DOE learned in 2015 when the Bluegrass Institute successfully challenged the Kentucky Board of Education’s decision to permit the members of a committee — established to screen search firms for selection of a new commissioner — to conduct their meetings by telephone rather than in an open, public forum.
In 15-OMD-155 the attorney general concluded that the board committee “was a public agency within the meaning of KRS 61.805(2)(g)” and therefore “required to comply with requirements of the Open Meetings Act.” At its most basic level, the law requires “all meetings of a quorum of the members of any public agency at which any public business is discussed or at which any action is taken” to be “open to the public at all times” unless the business discussed falls within one or more of the statutory exceptions.
Conference calls thus contravene the fundamental mandate of the open meetings law, a proposition recognized its earliest days.
The Charter School Advisory Council was created by executive order, Mr. Brown explained, and is therefore a public agency pursuant to KRS 61.805(2)(e). Like the screening committee established by the Kentucky Board of Education, it is a public agency — albeit under a separate definitional section — that must comply with the open meetings and records laws in all particulars.
Better for the members to learn this lesson at the council’s inception than to proceed in ignorance.
The Bluegrass Institute is pleased that its 2015 efforts contributed to the education of these educators.