The Rock Hill school board shouldn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel regarding open meetings. Ample precedent exists to guide members in the law.
The board is in the process of replacing outgoing Superintendent Lynn Moody, who resigned last month to take over as superintendent for the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina. Apparently the board is uncertain about how to proceed in this process regarding whether meetings should be open or closed.
The agenda for one recent meeting – which was closed to the public – stated that the purpose was “to discuss the possible employment of a superintendent search firm and proper contractual agreements.”
This meeting shouldn’t have been closed. While the board is legally permitted to hold closed meetings regarding some personnel matters, it has no reason to go into executive session to discuss how it is going to go about selecting a search firm.
That’s a discussion the public is entitled to hear. When the board has chosen a firm and wants to discuss a contract, then it can do so behind closed doors.
After this meeting, board member Jane Sharp posted on her website that the board had discussed whether it would make the names of all potential candidates public or only the names of finalists. Again, that’s a discussion to which the public should be privy.
The law has clear guidelines about making the names of job candidates public. Just follow the rules.
In two recent meetings, including the one held Sept. 6, board members talked with representatives of search firms in closed session. Board members indicated that the discussion revolved around routine questions about how the firms would go about finding superintendent candidates and what kind of package they might offer the board.
South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers, an expert on the Freedom of Information Act, said that even a decision to meet with search firms is a decision that should have been made publicly. He also questioned the need to go behind closed doors to discuss what the firms had to offer.
“Why shouldn’t the public be kept in the discussion about what the options for the contract are?” he said. “What’s secret about what the options are?”
Board discussions involving specific contract and personnel issues can be held in executive sessions. But these preliminary meetings with search firms aren’t close to getting into those details.
The board has a choice. It can lean toward secrecy, using the privilege of discussion of legal and personnel issues as a pretext to operate behind closed doors. Or it can scrupulously do whatever it can to include the public it serves in the discussions and the decision-making process.
We think the board should err on the side of openness, and we hope members carefully consider that as this process goes forward.