State Board of Ed gets failing grade on open meetings compliance

  In a Nov. 28 letter, Kathy Patterson, Coalition chair, cited the D.C. State Board of Education's failure to comply with basic requirements of the Open Meetings Act which became effective April 1, 2011. She told Laura M. Slover, Board chair, that in the statute's first year, the Board of Education has not fulfilled its responsibilities to keep the public informed about its meetings.

  According to Patterson, the Open Meetings Act carries out the D.C. Council policy that the public is “entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the actions of those who represent them” and covering all “public bodies,” the act together with the D.C. Freedom of Information Act or FOIA are the key pieces of the open government legal framework in the District.[1]  An Open Government Office has the enforcement assignment, including the power to sue, but has not yet been established. 

  The Coalition looked for information on the web showing meetings of public bodies in the 12-month period since the Open Meetings Act went into effect April 1, 2011, Patterson said. To evaluate compliance, it looked at each entity’s web site to find records for each meeting and counted details of compliance -- whether each body did what the law requires:

  • gave advance notice of each meeting including agenda, any planned closing and reason;
  • justified any proposed closing of a meeting with reference to an exemption in the law;
  • in the meeting, took a vote on the record (shown in minutes) to approve any closing;
  • published both meeting minutes and a full record; and
  • made all these records reasonably accessible on its web site.

The Coalition didn’t assess a number of dimensions where the data are more challenging, for example, whether public bodies held unreported meetings, or whether notices are timely and accurate.

  However, even in a search for the most basic elements required by the Act, the Coalition was disappointed to find that the State Board of Education had posted nothing, Patterson stated.That is, not a single public meeting notice or agenda was posted for the study period (the law’s first year, 2011-12) at the time of the review a few months ago. Some hearing testimony is available from 2010-2011 and since the time of the review some meeting information has started to be posted.  

  Perhaps the details of compliance are confusing or other assistance would be useful in clarifying the Board’s statutory obligations. When the Coalition contacted the Board to discuss the situation, a staff person acknowledged that the Board has not posted the required information but gave no clear reason why, mentioning only something general about court reporters and backlog. Patterson offered the Coalition's assistance to the Board and its staff on Open Meetings Act compliance.