MT. VERNON — The Mt. Vernon Township High School Board is accused of deliberately circumventing the Open Meetings Act.
The Concerned Citizens of Jefferson County, Ltd., has circulated a report through social media which alleges the board met in small groups so it would not be required to hold open meetings.
“One technique devised by Board leadership to avoid public scrutiny came to be known as the ‘two at a time’ or ‘group of two’ method,” the group report states.
The allegation is based on emails provided by former board member Greg Backes, who, along with Jon Hawthorne, resigned in July 2013, citing “ethical reasons.”
Backes and Hawthorne, at the time of the resignations, refused to give further explanation to the Register-News of why they were leaving the board.
According to the Open Meetings Act, if a majority of a quorum of a public body is present and discussing the business of the public body, it becomes an open meeting and notification must be given to the pubic. As a board of seven members, the majority of a quorum would be three people. Two board members would not qualify as an open meeting under the Act.
MVTHS Board President Carl Miller admitted the board had meetings involving two board members at a time with the bond counsel and with FMG Architects regarding the new school.
“There were one or two meetings set up that way,” Miller admitted. “We needed to get together with the bond counsel and with FGM, and with the board members having different work schedules, it was decided at that point to do it that way. It was not done to avoid the Open Meetings Act, not at all.”
Superintendent Mike Smith also said there were about three meetings which were conducted with two board members only.
“We did not have an established practice and say, ‘Today, we’re having a group of two meeting.’” Smith said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. As I recall, it was three times, and we did it on a very limited basis. It was not a standard practice. It was when decisions had to be made on a time line and based on getting the information to the board quickly.”