TO BE PUBLISHED
March 17, 1997
In re: Justin D. Minnehan/Jackson County Board of Education
Open Meetings Decision
This matter comes to the Attorney General as an appeal by legal counsel for Justin D. Minnehan in connection with his complaint against the Jackson County Board of Education.
In a letter to the Chairman of the Jackson County Board of Education, dated February 18, 1997, legal counsel for Mr. Minnehan complained of actions taken by the Board of Education at its meeting on January 31, 1997. It was specifically alleged that a particular action taken at the meeting was not included in the agenda set forth in the notice for the special meeting which occurred on January 31, 1997. Mr. Minnehan's counsel said that the vote not to renew the school superintendent's contract fell outside the item set forth in the agenda of what was to be discussed at the meeting.
On March 3, 1997, this office received a letter of appeal from Mr. Minnehan's legal counsel stating in part that no response, written or otherwise, had been received from the school board relative to the complaint.
On March 10, 1997, this office received a letter from Timothy Crawford on behalf of the Jackson County Board of Education. A copy of that letter was sent to Mr. Minnehan's legal counsel. Mr. Crawford stated that the notice of the special meeting with the agenda was legally sufficient. The purpose of the special meeting, as set forth in the notice, was to discuss renewal and/or action of the superintendent's contract. The board voted not to renew the contract of the school superintendent. The board, in Mr. Crawford's opinion, acted in conformity with both the terms and provisions of the Open Meetings Act and school board policy.
KRS 61.846(1) sets forth the duties and obligations of both the complaining party and the public agency in connection with a complaint submitted under the Open Meetings Act. The written complaint to the presiding officer of the public agency shall state the circumstances which constitute an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act and what the public agency should do to remedy the alleged violations. The complaining party satisfied the statutory requirements relative to the making of a complaint.
The statute requires that the public agency, within three business days after the receipt of the complaint, notify the complaining party in writing whether it intends to correct the situation set forth in the complaint. If the public agency denies the allegations set forth in the complaint the agency must set forth in its written response a statement of the specific statute supporting the public agency's denial and a brief explanation of how the statute applies to the specific situation under consideration.
The record available to this office indicates that neither the chairman, as the presiding officer at school board meetings, nor any other school official or representative of the school board submitted a timely written response to the complaining party concerning the matters set forth in the letter to the chairman, dated February 18, 1997. Mr. Crawford's letter, on the board's behalf, while responsive to the issue raised under the Open Meetings Act, was not timely. The school board violated the Open Meetings Act to the extent that its written response to the complaint was not submitted within the statutorily mandated time frame. See 96-OMD-262 and 96-OMD-154.
In connection with special meetings, the required notice, and the agenda, KRS 61.823(3), a section of the Open Meetings Act, provides as follows:
The public agency shall provide written notice of the special meeting. The notice shall consist of the date, time, and place of the special meeting and the agenda. Discussions and action at the meeting shall be limited to items listed on the agenda in the notice.
The Open Meetings Act requires that a notice of a special meeting contain an agenda and that the special meeting is limited to those items set forth on the agenda. There is no definition of the term agenda and no explanation as to what constitutes a satisfactory agenda.
The special meeting notice in this situation contained the following sentence which we construe to be the agenda for that meeting: The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss renewal and/or action of the Superintendent's contract.
Agenda is defined in part in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1966) as a list or outline of things to be done, subjects to be discussed, or business to be transacted.
We believe that the agenda for this particular meeting clearly indicated that the school board intended to discuss the school superintendent's contract and to possibly take action relative to that contract. The school board's decision not to renew that contract was within the limits of what it could do pursuant to the agenda set forth in the notice. The agenda could not state that the board intended to fire the superintendent as the board can only take action in an open and public session of a school board meeting. To announce ahead of the meeting a course of action to be taken would have indicated that the board had collectively already made its decision.
KRS 160.270(1) concerning regular and special meetings of the school board states in part that, Each member of the board shall have timely notice of each meeting and the nature, object, and purpose for which it is called.
The notice of the special meeting in this situation indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss renewal of the superintendent's contract and to possibly take action relative to that contract.
It is, therefore, the decision of the Attorney General that while the school board violated the Open Meetings Act by its failure to file a written response to the complaint within the statutorily mandated time frame, its decision to not renew the superintendent's contract was not a violation of the Open Meetings Act as that action was within the agenda of activities set forth in the notice for that special meeting.
A party aggrieved by this decision may challenge it by filing an appeal with the appropriate circuit court within thirty days from the date of this decision. See KRS 61.846(4)(a) and KRS 61.848. Pursuant to KRS 61.846(5), the Attorney General must benotified of any action filed in the circuit court, but he shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceeding under the Open Meetings Act.
A. B. Chandler III
Thomas R. Emerson
Assistant Attorney General
Copies of this decision
have been distributed to:
John Frith Stewart
Segal, Isenberg, Sales, Stewart,
Cutler & Tillman
2100 Waterfront Plaza
325 West Main St.
Louisville KY 40202-4251
Crawford Law Offices
317 North Main Street
Corbin KY 40701