Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dear Dr. Culver…Do we need to review Open Meetings Laws again?

First off…and we may have missed it…but we do not recall anyone asking you whether or not you agreed with Mr. Mealy’s allegation that the vagueness of the agenda item related to “Youth Advocates” represented a violation of noticing requirements under the Open Meetings laws. Furthermore, a significant number of community residents would prefer that you remember that these are school board meetings, of which you are NOT a member. Remember? You are the employee…the board is the employer?

Second, we’re wondering how difficult it must be for you to dance between positions. At one point during Monday’s meeting you clearly counseled board members (your employers) that any members planning on attending an upcoming meeting need to alert Gwen King in order that she can generate a public meeting notice, if an equivalent of a quorum planned to attend, to satisfy Open Meetings Laws noticing requirements. So, on the one hand you’re going out of your way to alert the board to situations that potentially fall under the jurisdiction of Open Meetings Laws. A conservative position, one would say. On the other hand, you’re arguing that burying an underlying, critical issue regarding security at the high school under the innocuous agenda title of, Youth Advocates Job Description and FTE, does NOT represent a violation of Open Meeting Laws. Where did that conservatism go?

Logic Analysis
Let’s look at the logic (or lack thereof) in your argument that the agenda item was NOT a violation of Open Meetings Laws. Administration’s plan was/is to replace security guards with Youth Advocates. The board agenda item related to approval of the Youth Advocate job description. A separate board decision would be required to discontinue Security Guards, replacing them with Youth Advocates. Therefore, Mr. Spock would tell you that it is illogical to begin by approving a job description since the creation of those positions was dependent on the board FIRST approving the switch from Security Guards to Youth Advocates. What if they agreed to approve the job description but not the switch? That wouldn't make sense? It only makes sense to decide on whether or not to use Youth Advocates instead of Security Guards. THEN you move forward with a job description. Of course the decision to switch should consider a maximum amount to be invested in Youth Advocates to keep the plan cost neutral.

You put the cart before the horse. The first action SHOULD have been to allow the public to know about and have input on the decision of whether or not to discontinue the practice of using Security Guards.

Do we have any doubt that you’ll find an attorney who’ll support your position? Nope. After all…attorneys get paid by the hour to argue contrary positions. How do you get an attorney to argue an unreasonable position? Pay ‘em!!!!

What does the Law say?
The law ( Open Meetings Laws Guide 2007, III.A.2.a.) states that Wis. Stat. § 19.84(2) sets forth a reasonableness standard [for clarity of public notices] , and that such a standard strikes the proper balance contemplated in Wis. Stat. §§ 19.81(1) and (4) between the public’s right to information and the government’s need to efficiently conduct its business.” The document states further that the reasonableness standard “requires a case specific analysis” and “whether notice is sufficiently specific will depend upon what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

In making that determination, the factors to be considered include:
“[1] the burden of providing more detailed notice,
[ How much effort would it have been to have the agenda item read, Replacing Security Guards at the High School with new positions, titled, Youth Advocates???]

[2] whether the subject is of particular public interest, and
Hello! You KNOW there has been significant public concern about violence at the high school!

[3] whether it involves non-routine action that the public would be unlikely to anticipate.”
This is the easiest. We have contracted Security Guards for several years now, so this is a non-routine action. Further, there is no way the public could make the leap in logic from approving a job description for “Youth Advocates” to replacing Security Guards with these positions.

Poor form, Dr. Culver. The law is clear. Your logic was equally clearly flawed. That public notice violated the requirements of Open Meetings Laws. Save us a few hundred dollars and skip the attorney consult to which you alluded, will you please?

There’s no need to check with the attorneys and cost the taxpayers money. Simply open your copy of the WISCONSIN OPEN MEETINGS LAW A COMPLIANCE GUIDE 2007 (OML 2007) and read section III A 2.a. Then resurrect that conservative approach you presented when trying to protect the school board’s collective keesters earlier in the meeting.

Dr. Culver…you hung President John Whalen’s keester out on this issue, because –as you know—you are immune from any sanctions related to violation of Open Meetings Laws. Only elected officials can be taken to the woodshed. But rest assured, John. We already know that DA Blanchard is waaaaaaay too busy to deal with Open Meetings complaints. He still has one in the hopper on which he has yet to adjudicate.