The operational policy put in place by the Evans County Board of Education with regard to how the entity conducts executive sessions, specifically related to personnel decisions, is not permissible under the Open Meetings Act, the Georgia Attorney General confirmed Wednesday.
AllOnGeorgia sent an inquiry to the state attorney general’s office on August 27th after the Evans County Board of Education once again returned to an open meeting after executive session and made motions to ‘approve personnel items as discussed in executive session.’ Though the law specifically states that the vote “on any matter shall be taken in public” and noted in the minutes, the Board of Education was instead avoiding publicly commenting on the specifics in the open meeting – so the public is unaware of what is being voted on – and adding the recommendations to the attached minutes after the fact. But the minutes are the official documentation and account of what occurs at the meeting, not any attachments, and therefore, the Board of Education is seemingly voting on measures that are not being recorded for the official record.
AllOnGeorgia wrote about the Board of Education operating under the same procedure in last October after David Greene called for a motion to ‘accept the personnel recommendations as recommended’ during a workshop, never making mention of the details. At the time, Superintendent Marty Waters said it was to protect personnel decisions and give the Board and/or Board office the opportunity to contact any affected personnel. Waters said, in the interest of transparency, he would begin sending the personnel recommendations to the media after the meetings, however, that procedure stopped in November 2017.
But here’s what the law says — O.C.G.A. 50-14-3 (b)(2) reads:
Meetings when discussing or deliberating upon the appointment, employment,
compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal, or periodic evaluation or rating of a
public officer or employee or interviewing applicants for the position of the executive head
of an agency. This exception shall not apply to the receipt of evidence or when hearing
argument on personnel matters, including whether to impose disciplinary action or dismiss a public officer or employee or when considering or discussing matters of policy regarding the employment or hiring practices of the agency. The vote on any matter covered by this
paragraph shall be taken in public and minutes of the meeting as provided in this chapter
shall be made available. Meetings by an agency to discuss or take action on the filling of a
vacancy in the membership of the agency itself shall at all times be open to the public as
provided in this chapter;
And the Attorney General’s Office concurs.
The August 27th inquiry asked if it is “permissible for an entity to return to open meeting after an executive session and make a motion to vote on what was discussed in executive session” with discussing specifics, subject matter, or anything that would identify the subject.”
Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo responded on September 5th stating:
“No. It is not. The OMA doesn’t say that explicitly but being “open to the public” means that the public should be able to know what’s being voted on. A few years ago there was a school district doing exactly what you describe and I wrote them a letter telling them to cut it out (and they did).”
The following two page letter was provided to AllOnGeorgia by Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo on Wednesday with regard to another school district conducting business the same way. She ultimately instructed the Board in question to stop the questionable practices. Her letter refutes Dr. Waters’ reasons for the internal policy specifically when it reads:
“I agree that it can be awkward for employees or job applicatns to learn important details about their employment through an announcement at a public meeting or from a “local newspaper or the employee/applicant’s neighbor,” as you note. Notifying them privately before making a public announcement is considered the best practice for a private employer…”
The Evans County Board of Education could receive a similar letter if AllOnGeorgia amended the August 27th inquiry with the AG to become a formal complaint.
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AllOnGeorgia contacted the Evans County Board of Education after the previous meeting where a similar event occurred. When asked why the personnel recommendations were no longer provided to the media, Assistant to the Superintendent Amy Rogers said it was due to the fact that “the personnel recommendations are at the end of the draft minutes” posted on the website. Rogers then said they were not part of the meeting minutes and when AllOnGeorgia asked how the recommendations could be included if they’re not part of the minutes, Rogers said there was “no addendum, just the list of personnel recommendations.” The email exchange is below.