Saturday, January 24, 2009

Here we go again! Open Meetings violations?

Bravo, Chris Mertes !

Mertes' column "Our View" in the 1-22-09 edition of the Sun Prairie STAR eloquently underscores the continuing follies of the Sun Prairie school board in upholding Open Meetings laws and also points out some of the flaws of the highly touted "BoardDocs" software that enables them.

At issue here is the fact that the school board failed to post an altered agenda of its Jan. 12 meeting. An amended agenda had been distributed to board members using Board Docs but not to the news media--or the public. The public believed that the board would be discussing donations received to install artificial turf on the new baseball field.

Sin of omission? Or sin of commission...that is the question.

Sun Prairie Star, "Our View" column: Board Locks

"Sun Prairie School Board members need to be vigilant that they do
not violate state law when revising agendas using "Board Docs" or they will lock the public out of their agendas and, thereby, public discussions of issues affecting them.

----Chris Mertes

Mertes hits the nail right on the head. Of course, that accuracy only comes from lots of practice, and he's had more than enough given the board's propensity for coloring outside the lines. We've been down this road before, His Highness will respond at Monday's board meeting, and the party line will be, "This was merely an 'oops'. There was no intent to circumvent the law." On the other hand, we can only use the, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do..." card so many times. At this point we've turned a lot of cheeks; in fact, it seems that in response to our continual cheek-turning, the board has effectively dropped trou and exposed a whole different set of cheeks to us.

Yes, this was not the most flagrant foul we've seen out of the board. Absolutely, having something on the agenda that was NOT discussed is a far lesser crime than discussing/deciding something that was NOT on the agenda. Then of course we get into the more capital offenses: holding meetings that are not noticed at all...or having off-line discussions via e-mail or phone.

This BoardDocs was not cheap, and right now we've seen how it can be easily used to bypass the system. Sure, in the right hands, this BoardDocs thing may prove to be the greatest thing to come along since Sonic. (dontcha just KNOW that if we get a local Sonic, the district checks payable to it will be absolutely flying out??) But right now, it's just a fancy file server.

So....what's a poor taxpayer to do? If you have the cash, you could file a civil suit against the board. You could also file a complaint with the District Attorney's office. Sadly, however, as much as Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen preaches the importance of Open Meetings laws and transparency of government, the DAs plain and simply always seem to have something larger on their plate than addressing these violations.
"Of course we could go through the myriad steps associated with getting an official from the Attorney General's office or the Dane County District Attorney's Office to make a finding that the board and district violated the law -- but what would be the point? The district and board have demonstrated time and again during the past few years that the law only
suits them when convenient."

---Chris Mertes

Well said, Chris. Keep fighting the good fight. We're five by five.