Updated open meetings act book offers guidance to districts
Kentucky School Advocate
By John Fogle
KSBA Staff Attorney
Understanding the rules about open meetings might seem like second nature for school board members who conduct most of the district’s business in public, but questions about special meetings, when a board can go into closed sessions or what constitutes a serial meeting can challenge even veteran members.
KSBA’s recently updated book, “School Districts & The Open Meetings Act,” has helpful guidance on these and other issues. The new sixth edition of the book contains an overview of the Open Meeting ACT (OMA) followed by chapters covering OMA requirements and related issues such as quorums, voting and minutes. The work includes discussion of dozens of Kentucky Attorney General OMA decisions and judicial opinions that have been issued since the last edition.
Topics covered more extensively in the book trending now include:
The “Homeland Security” exception
This exception (KRS 61.810(1)(m)) allows closed session discussion of specific records that are confidential under Kentucky’s Open Records Act where disclosure “would have a reasonable likelihood of threatening the public safety by exposing a vulnerability” to a terrorist act. Use of this exception does not permit open ended discussion of any safety measures or purchases but must be tied to discussion of covered record. Discussion relating to the development and implementation of school safety plans required under KRS 158.162 is one example.
Filling board vacancies
While often called the “personnel exception,” KRS 61.810(1)(f) also allows closed session discussions that might lead to the appointment of a “member.” The exception takes on new importance as school boards review and compare applications or conduct interviews to fill school board vacancies under recent amendments to KRS 160.190 giving boards a 60-day window following a vacancy to appoint a new member. Of course, final board action on any appointment must take place in open session.
The statute covering video teleconferences (KRS 61.826) was significantly amended in 2018 to emphasize that the requirement that the public must be permitted to observe meetings applies to the primary location of such meetings. The 2018 amendment eliminated language that was interpreted to prevent holding closed sessions by video teleconference. Additional notices must be provided for these meetings. A video teleconference meeting is to be “suspended” if the video or audio feed to or from the remote location is lost. Executive summary: Consult board counsel and district technology leadership when considering holding a meeting via video teleconference because much more is required than simply having a remote member “Skype in.”
Prior to joining KSBA, your correspondent worked with school boards in connection with many OMA administrative and litigation matters. Earlier editions of the book served me well in that work and my hope is that the latest edition will continue to serve as a valuable resource for school leaders and advisers.
The books are available on KSBA’s website.