The Wichita Eagle is taking a well-deserved victory lap following the release of an opinion from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office. The Dec. 28 opinion clarified that Kansas public bodies, like school boards and city councils, cannot recess from an open meeting in order to reconvene an executive session at some unnamed point in the future.
The AG issued the opinion at the request of Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican. Finch asked the AG to define “recess” and “adjourn.” Finch’s request to the attorney general’s office didn’t mention the Wichita school board, but according to the Wichita Eagle, the AG’s decision affirms an Eagle complaint against the local school board.
The paper’s complaint alleged the Wichita school board violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act last year. Board members recessed from an open meeting into a weeklong executive session last February to discuss hiring a new superintendent. They later met at in private at an unspecified time and place to interview potential superintendent candidates. In a public meeting a week later, the board voted to hire current Wichita superintendent Alicia Thompson.
Kansas law allows public bodies to meet in executive session to discuss personnel issues, but the recent AG opinion clarifies they can only recess into a private meeting that occurs concurrent with an open meeting.
“We find no support, however, for the conclusion that a public body or public agency may take an extended recess and, at any time of its choosing… hold a closed or executive meeting,” the AG opinion reads.
At the time, the school board president said the board met in private to avoid splashing potential hire names all over the news. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office initially ruled board members did not violate open meetings law, but the AG’s opinion confirmed the opposite.
“This represents a win for open government and transparency in Kansas,” “This opinion supports what we knew all along: In no way was it legal or reasonable to believe that a public meeting could be recessed and reconvened multiple times over multiple days at locations that were secret,” Steve Coffman, an Eagle editor, told the paper.