School board attorney responds to editor’s column

L ast week we spoke of the school board and their lack of willingness to allow the public  to know what it going on in their search for a superintendent as well as their discussion about appointing current Superintendent Paes for an additional year.

We received a call from the board attorney, Wesla Leech, on Thursday.  She was angry about the way the board was portrayed in the column as well as the newspaper’s perspective, namely Pat Brown and the way she was portrayed. 

It was suggested to Leech that she respond to the newspaper in the form of a letter to the editor.  She stated that she did not feel that was appropriate and would not be a part of a written dispute.  The paper offered to print her side of the issue, and she voiced her position. 

She said the advice she gave the board was sound and that she had sought direction from legal counsel from the school board as well as an attorney general’s opinion.  She did say when we contacted her that she had sought outside counsel, but we asked if she had sought an AG’s opinion.  At that point she had not. 

Leech and the paper agreed to disagree about whether it was proper to take the superintendent into executive session to discuss the extension of his contract with the schools without making the discussion public.  Because of the  legislation that now requires school superintendents to be appointed rather than elected is new, there is no case precedent for taking an elected superintendent into executive session under the personnel exemption to the open meetings requirement.  Section 25-61-1 allows for a personnel exemption under section five.  However, it is only to be used to discuss specific issues like performance or character of an individual, and the board is supposed to specifically announce that  before they can enter into executive session. 

This is where the paper differs with the school board.  Note, we do not practice law as was implied by the board attorney when she asked “where we studied law?”  We do, however, offer opinions which we clearly stated as “our opinion.” 

The superintendent does not work for the school board; therefore, he is not classified as “personnel” and they have no purview over his position in the same way that the sheriff is not “personnel” under the board of supervisors.  He answers to the people of the county because he is elected.  If he were appointed, his classification would be a different matter. 

Mrs. Leech stressed that she had done her due diligence, and we are just going to have to disagree and that is okay.

We think the community has a right to know what the board is planning for the superintendent’s job.  We asked her when this matter was discussed.  She said the board speaks through their minutes.  We replied that the superintendent’s position had not been discussed at a board meeting.  So we asked when the discussion was held.  There was no answer to that question.  If it was not in a board meeting, when was it discussed? 

We then stated that the board does not share information about what they are discussing all the time.  Mrs. Leech said she would see that the issue was corrected in the future.  However, having access to information is not just an issue for the newspaper. Everyone has a right to know what is being discussed at school board meetings, but this has not been the case in the past. 

We hope that Mrs. Leech will be able to see that public information is made public at the time it is to be discussed and not just when it is convenient.  

It is okay to disagree and have different opinions. But the facts have to be presented openly.