On Wednesday, the Western Maricopa Education Center District(West-MEC) Governing Board had a change of plans after they were advised by Arizona’s former superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas that its plans for an Executive Session were out-of-bounds.
According to Arizona’s Open Meeting laws, governing boards may meet behind closed doors, in what is called Executive Session, under narrowly defined circumstances except in order to receive legal advice on topics otherwise not allowed to be discussed behind closed doors; often times circumventing the public’s legitimate right to hear the discussion. As was the case with this West-MEC agenda item.
Two West-MEC Governing Board members, Mike Hutchinson and Peter Pingerelli, had the temerity to call for the District to sever ties with the highly controversial Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). That request prompted District leaders to maneuver for an Executive Session, in which the two stray board members would be bullied back into the fold and drop their request.
Douglas appeared at the meeting to specifically address the illegality of the board’s plans for an Executive Session. After Douglas was allowed to address the Board with her concerns (see below), a Motion was made by a board member and seconded to convene the executive session. The Motion was defeated on a 3 to 3 vote with one board member absent.
Ultimately the decision to leave ASBA was tabled for 2 months.
Supporters of Pingerelli and Hutchinson hailed the tabling of the Executive Session as a win for transparency.
West-MEC Governing Board Public Comments, Diane Douglas – AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction 2015-2018:
Thank you Chairman Straka, Vice-Chairman Pingerelli, Members of the West-MEC Governing Board and Supt. Donovan for allowing me to address you this afternoon.
Some of you may know me. I am Diane Douglas. I had the honor and privilege of serving as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015-2018.
As such I served on:
- The AZ State Board of Education,
- the State Board for Charter Schools,
- the Board of AZ School for the Deaf and Blind.
I also served as a member of the Peoria Unified Governing Board from 2005-2012 and as the board’s president 2008 & 2009.
I have more than a little experience serving on public boards that are bound by AZ Open Meeting Law including more executive session than I care to count.
ARS 38-431.03(A)(3) allows public bodies to conduct executive session for discussions or consultation for LEGAL ADVICE with an attorney.
This “legal advice” clause is being abused by public bodies all across Arizona to bring behind closed doors issues which otherwise MUST be discussed in public.
Bring in an attorney for “advice” and a board can discuss virtually anything in private – the specifics of which are never to be disclosed to the community it serves.
I have long referred to this abuse as the OML “get out of jail free” card.
I commend Rep Beverly Pingerelli for her attempt to put limits on this egregious circumventing of Open Meeting Law with HB2804. Sadly it did not move.
According to Supt. Dovovan’s memo the purpose of this proposed exec session is “to receive advice form (sic) the District’s Attorney on the ramifications and implications of West-MEC no longer being a member of ASBA.”
West-MEC has no contractual agreement or obligation to continue a relationship with AZ School Board Association.
There is no legal contract that will be broken, terms of departure or punitive damages to be negotiated should the board decide to leave ASBA.
While there may be practical and financial implications there are no LEGAL ramifications. Therefore there is no lawful justification to conduct this discussion behind closed doors.
Any thoughts Ms. Segal has of the value of ABSA services to the district may be opinions but not legal advice.
Finally, just because a discussion is with an attorney does not necessitate it being confidential.
Even IF, by some wildest stretch of the imagination, some truly deem this “legal advice” there is nothing to be compromised by the board having this discussion with the DISTRICT’S attorney in an open public session.
Doing so will allow us, your constituents whose taxpayer dollars are paying the membership dues and policy fees of ASBA, to understand whatever decision this board ultimately makes about its relationship with ASBA. And the justification of why each one of you decided to vote as you eventually will.