Idaho group says school trustees met illegally

From the Associated Press

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — A government-accountability group says a southeastern Idaho school board held an illegal secret meeting over salary cuts.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free-market advocate, vowed to lodge a complaint in state court against Pocatello’s District 25 school board, whose trustees held a three-hour executive session Saturday morning, followed by a vote to cut administrative salaries by 6.9 percent.

Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said such a topic isn’t covered under Idaho’s exemptions to its open meetings law.

Hoffman told The Associated Press on Tuesday he’s worried that school districts across Idaho could opt for similar closed-door meetings as they address budget cuts in 2011. He wants to stop this practice before it spreads.

“What makes the Pocatello school system think that making a decision to either add to or take from a public employee’s salary is confidential somehow?” Hoffman told the Idaho State Journal. “The school board has an obligation to hold a substantive debate about the budget issues confronting the school district in a public setting.”

School district officials referred questions to their lawyer, Brian Julian. Julian said the board acted appropriately, because the closed meeting covered personnel matters.

Julian said he’s dealt with hundreds of such cases over the last decade, “and this is the way it’s done every time.”

The agenda announcing Saturday’s special meeting lists the open meeting law exemption used to base the executive session as: “to consider the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or agent.”

According to the Idaho open meetings manual, the state attorney general believes general personnel matters can’t be the subject of closed-door secret meetings.

Rather, only specific personnel actions — such as hiring or firing a public officer or staff member, or to hear complaints or charges brought against public employees, agents or students — are appropriate to be heard in executive sessions.

Julian, who has handled such cases for 30 years, said he believes hosting the discussion in closed session protects due process rights of employees. He also said a retired judge was listening over the phone and believes the school board had a right to deliberate in private.

“I feel comfortable that the process was appropriate,” Julian said.

Information from: Idaho State Journal,

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

From the Associated Press

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