As I sat in my local school board of education meeting last Thursday evening, I had little idea how timely the discussion between a resident and the majority of the board was going to turn out to be. I opened the Sunday Press and Sun-Bulletin to find that Sunshine Week started on March 11th.
Sunshine Week is a week of awareness about the public’s right to know. It involves mostly emergency management plans for local areas – at least the 2007 week is concentrating on that. The web site for Sunshine Week says:
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
My board of education experience, while not involving Freedom of Information, did involve open meeting law discussion. Since I have lived in the school district, there have been unhappy taxpayers who complain that the majority of the board’s activities seem to take place somewhere other than their twice monthly meetings. In recent years, since I lost my bid to be a member of the board, my opponent has been trying to make strides in keeping what is discussed in private to a minimum. Unfortunately, she is not meeting with support from the remainder of her fellow board members.
There is executive session – usually to discuss children with handicapping conditions but also used for other issues – where it seems no one but those in the room seem to know what is going on. The taxpayer at the last meeting wants the board to be more specific when they move to go to executive session. I can remember years when it was going to executive session with no description of what would be discussed. The board has improved. Now, the motion usually contains a small mention of what will be discussed.
The public deserves more detail. Instead of a motion to go to executive session to discuss personnel matters, the public deserves to know it is to discuss resignations or disciplinary issues or new hires. Instead of a motion to go to executive session to discuss contract negotiations, the public deserves to know it is to discuss the contract with NYSUT or CSEA or the union representing the custodial staff. The public also deserves to know, without having to ask, that said contract expires on “X” date.
Hopefully, the board member who is a strong supporter of open government and the taxpayer who wants to know more will keep fighting.