Saturday, October 15, 2005

Open Government

I just finished reading the Standard Times story about the last SAISD school board workshop. Makes you wonder what the board members were thinking. It seems they need to take a look at the Texas Attorney General's site on open government, and look at the section called Open Meeting Laws Made Easy. They might want to get the publications available for free as well. Here are some highlights that the board needs to look at.

First, any time a quorum of a governmental body is present and discusses public business, the open meetings laws apply. According to information on the OAG site, the authority to hold off the record staff briefings and similar workshops was repealed by a change in the law in 1999. That law limits which meetings can be closed, and lays out the requirements for notification and recording.

Next there is the question of recording the meeting. According to the state law, all meetings subject to the open meetings law must either have minutes or a tape recording. No exceptions, even for closed or executive sessions. The only time that the minutes or recording stop is when the body is consulting with an attorney, and attorney client privilege is involved. There are limits on how the record of a closed session can be distributed, but there must be an official record.

Last, there is the question of notification of meetings. The law is simple. The notice must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times for at least 72 hours before the scheduled time of the meeting, with a few exceptions for emergencies and state legislature activities. I am not sure if the door of the school board building meets this criteria but will check it out when I get a chance. The Boards posting on the internet might also suffice, but the notice and content organization leave something to be desired.

After this quick review, you have to wonder why the School Board ended up in this situation. I am sure they weren't trying to pull a fast one. Still, this is something that shouldn't happen again. Additionally, this is a wake up call to watch the organizations that should be having open meetings. The "Government Body" referenced in the law also includes certain non-profits that can receive federal funds or that deal with water. Good government requires open government. Citizens do have a right to know what's going on.

Keep checking comments for updates.

5 comments:

  1. Trying to hide something? Keep hearing the word Bond Issue... As if we need more taxes. Also hear consolidation of schools. People are leaving our schools for smaller schools in surrounding areas and the admin and school board wish to have bigger schools???? Why??? All they wish to have is a huge Central and other huge schools the people are saying no and voting by sending their kids to other districts...

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  2. If they were trying to hide something they were very clumsy. Your other points and questions need to be addressed.

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  3. I have had an Email exchange with Board President, Lanny Layman. He has done some checking and assures me that minutes were taken, like they are supposed to be, at the last workshop session. There seems to be a dropped communication between the paper and the school board.

    He has also assured me that they will be having an open meeting workshop in the near future, and the media will have a special invitation.

    We will just have to wait and see what happens.

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  4. I have been informed, but will have to verify, that the minutes of the workshop consisted of a start time, a stop time, and a list of who was there. If this is the case, the minutes were not sufficient to meet the requirements of Government Code 551.021 which says
    "(b) The minutes must:
    (1) state the subject of each deliberation; and
    (2) indicate each vote, order, decision, or other
    action taken."

    More to follow

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  5. I believe that the board of trustees of the SAISD is trying but I really do not think that they are really looking at the overall picture. First, they need to be open and the fact that one comment made stated that the Board President, Lanny Layman, has reassured him that there are minutes taken, but where are the minutes? Why was this not made public and posted? I think that before there are workshops they should start looking at why parents are taking their children out of the SAISD school system and enrolling them in the surrounding areas ISD’s. If the school population is declining, then why are we looking at building bigger and better schools? We the citizens of San Angelo have been receiving misleading information and incomplete information or no information at all over the last several years and the time has come to get down to hard and accountable work not only from the staff, but also the board. Hard choices have to be made and some of the choices are not likeable or popular but they have to be made. We need creditability back in San Angelo Independent School District. A more streamline and productive operations to insure that the taxes colleted are being used in educating the children and making a free and safe place for our children to learn and teachers to teach. We need to insure that the teachers are held to high standards and that their pay also reflects that standard. We need to hold the staff of SAISD starting with the Supernatant on down to a higher standard and they need to find ways to improve the academics and keep the young people in school and in the SAISD instead of going out to the surrounding area!

    Gary W. Elmquist

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