On February 9th, Sheila Page from the Utah State Attorney General’s Office met with the Park City School Board. She provided training on the Utah Open Meetings Act. During the meeting, Ms. Page told the school board “that looking at the meeting agenda, you are not properly going into closed session.” A closed session is a meeting, with public officials, where there is not a publicly available record recorded. The purpose of this law is so that the public knows how decisions are being made by our elected officials. There are a very narrowly defined set of circumstances where Utah state law allows a closed meeting:
- Discussion of a person’s character, competence, or health;
- Strategy for collective bargaining;
- Pending or imminent litigation;
- An acquisition of real property including water rights or shares;
- Discussion of security system;
- Investigation of criminal conduct;
- Specified commercial information discussed by a county legislative body;
- Certain legislative or political subdivision (S.B. 180) ethics complaint matters;
- Fiduciary or commercial information being discussed by the Utah Higher
What the Park City School District was apparently doing was not properly providing a motion, during a public meeting, with the specific reasons for closing a meeting. Ms Page said that a closed meeting should be a rare event. When a closed meeting does occur, the government body must provide the exact reasons for the meeting being closed.
Likewise, according to Ms. Page, meeting minutes and a recording must be kept of the closed meeting unless the board chair person signs an affidavit stating that the events discussed in the closed meeting were regarding the character, competence, or health of a person or persons.
So why do you, as a citizen, care? Transparency. We all want decisions made by the school board to be understood by the public. If your representative is Tania Knauer, how did she feel about the Reading Aids being removed from our elementary schools? If all conversations happened during public meetings, then GREAT! If a discussion about the issue took place in “Closed Session.” That’s not so great. We’ll never know what is said.
I think back to the baseball coach who was let go last year. Were there any discussions regarding that individual (outside of his character and competence… which are legal topics to be discussed in closed meetings) discussed in closed school board meetings?
To the School Board’s credit, during the next meeting (February 23rd), Tania Knauer, School Board President, followed proper procedure by asking if there was any board member who wanted to move into closed session to talk about the character and competence of an individual. They did not move into closed session during that meeting.
Yet, I wonder what may have been discussed during previous closed meetings… before they were “informed” that they were likely violating a Utah statute. Were Reading Aides discussed in closed session? Was any bond information discussed? Was the baseball coach discussed, beyond competence and character?
If so, and if any conversations occurred during any improperly closed session , then any conversations during those illegitimate closed meetings would be on the public record. We as citizens could hear the conversations that took place during the meeting.
Perhaps the Park Record is investigating this. This would be the normal role of the press. One of the essential roles of a local newspaper is ensuring that local government is following the rules. Maybe they are fulfilling this role. If not, we at the Park Rag are doing our best.
What is important to us at the Park Rag is that government matters are transparent. If there is a discussion that shouldn’t take place behind closed doors, we want to help ensure that those discussions happen in a public facing way.
It looks like the school board is taking steps to ensure that will happen going forward. We hope that in the past, while experts say the Park City School Board may have not been following rules, that all actions and discussions taken behind closed door were legitimate.
If not, we may have a real problem, with real consequences.