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  • Last modified 23 days ago (Sept. 27, 2017)

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Secrecy screw-ups

It’s surprising and yet not that the Marion-Florence school board still can’t get its ducks in a row over how to appropriately and legally use executive sessions.

They were at it again at a Tuesday special meeting, when after a secret session of five minutes they voted to raise salaries and hourly wages across the board for varied classes of employees.

What’s the problem? There are two.

First, they didn’t meet legal requirements for entering the session because they didn’t make a legal motion. They didn’t say what they were going to be talking about, and that’s required under Kansas law.

When they came out of the session, they took action to raise salaries and hourly wages for groups of employees, and there’s the second problem.

Pay scales for groups of employees are not allowable topics for executive sessions, save for groups with which the board is negotiating, like teachers. But there’s a special category of secret sessions just for negotiations.

Sessions for non-elected personnel are for individual issues that require confidential discussion. The board doesn’t need to take it from us, nor from our Kansas Press Association legal counsel, Max Kautsch, who confirmed these were violations of state law. As numerous sources available to the board point out, pay scales aren’t fair game for secret sessions.

The attorney general welcomes complaints about violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, and investigates them. Why? Because it’s their job to uphold the law.

We’re not going to take that step this time. We know what they were trying to do, and at least some rationale for the decisions was provided in open session. After several years of making budget concessions, some adjustment may be in order, and nothing passed by the board was excessive.

But school boards, city councils, county commission, and any other public boards are responsible for understanding and following the law. They need to understand that salaries and wages for groups of employees paid for by tax dollars are not confidential information. It’s open to the public who pays for them, and discussions about those are to be held openly, not privately.

We didn’t make the rules. The people did, through their elected representatives. We just want our local officials to respect what the people have said they want — open government.

— david colburn

Last modified Sept. 27, 2017

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