Two closed sessions of public bodies are being considered this week. So, we think this is an excellent time to remind the elected officials, and board attorneys, just what state law says about conducting the people’s business behind closed doors, away from the public’s eyes.
Let’s start with the Wayne County Board of Education, which has declared a special meeting for 1:30 p.m. today. In the meeting announcement, sent almost to the minute of the 48-hour mark required to notify the public, the schools say the board may go into closed session to consult with legal counsel and for personnel.
The problem is the board cannot do just that. The state has requirements that must be met for boards to consult with attorneys behind closed doors. Attorney-client privilege is not automatic when a board conducts the people’s business.
The city of Goldsboro announced Tuesday that the city council will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday to review and discuss the results of an investigation, and upon motion, the council may go into closed session to discuss a personnel matter.
The problem is the city cannot do just that. The state requires that any consideration, in this case, of a councilman cannot be done behind closed doors. The only public investigation discussed concerns Councilman Antonio Williams and city employee Shycole Simpson-Carter. Any discussion concerning findings of Williams must be done in an open meeting.
The state statute says: “A public body may not consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, appointment, or removal of a member of the public body or another body and may not consider or fill a vacancy among its membership except in an open meeting.” No interpretation needed nor required. If the council chooses to discuss Williams in closed session, it would be a violation of state general statute §143-318.11(a)(6).
Back to the school board, to enter into closed session to consult with an attorney, the state has specific requirements. “General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session, and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant … (the public body) shall identify the parties in each existing lawsuit concerning which the public body expects to receive advice during the closed session.”
Bottom line, the board of education will have to tell the public who the parties involved in the law are before the board can go into closed session.
For the most part, local boards do a good job complying with open meeting laws. It is the News-Argus’ job to keep an eye on what government is doing to ensure they keep doing well. And we always will.