Public Boards should be transparent

Published 2:45 am Thursday, July 15, 2021

****CORRECTION: There was an misprint in the Luverne Journal print edition on July 15, 2021. The editorial below listed the previous editor as the author and this was incorrect. The Journal apologizes for the error and is happy to put the record straight. ***

Public transparency is key to all public boards. Those who are elected to fill those boards pledge to be transparent. In Alabama, that means that people who are elected are bound by state law to abide by the Alabama Open Meetings Act and the Alabama Open Records Act.

Last week, the Crenshaw County Board of Education blatantly violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act.

When our editor arrived at the board meeting, which was a special-called board meeting, set for 7:30 a.m., Board President Sheri Claybrook was already asking the board if there was anything else before they were to adjourn the meeting.

There was some additional conversation among the board members, but the actual action items took place before 7:30 a.m.

Our editor questioned board members and the superintendent about the meeting beginning early, and they all were in agreement they started at 7:30 a.m., by the clock on the wall in the board room. That clock matched the editor’s phone time.

In less than a minute, the board claims to have recited the Pledge of Allegiance, said a prayer, conducted the roll call, and approved the personnel report.

Later, the editor got information from the superintendent’s secretary and emailed the board president to verify those details were correct. The board president directed the editor to Superintendent Dodd Hawthorne who told her not to contact board members to speak to him for clarification.

The Alabama Open Meetings Act requires that public boards give notice of meetings and special-called meetings. Under the Act boards are required to provide notice, which includes, date, time and place the meeting is to be held. Boards are prohibited from starting a meeting early even if they believe no one from the public will attend.

What was so secret that the Crenshaw County BOE decided to begin its meeting early and in violation of the OMA?

Board members are elected by county voters to act in their best interests and the best interests of students in the school system.

Therefore, it is vital that the school board maintain open and honest lines of communication with its constituents. Citizens in Crenshaw County deserve a board that is willing to be transparent and willing to inform them on decisions that are made.

Public officials are expected to be open and honest — this means the school board and the superintendent. Crenshaw Countians need to know what is going on in their school system.

Public trust is ever fleeting these days. It’s a shame that even now, the board of education cannot be trusted to be transparent and follow the basic laws of the state.

Our suggestion to the board is to study the Alabama Open Meetings Act, begin your meetings on time — not early and be transparent to the public. Sweeping issues under the rug does not make those issues disappear.

Several boards of education have adopted means of broadcasting their meetings live. This would allow for even better transparency because an even greater amount of your constituents would be able to view your meetings.

As leaders of the community, we cannot imagine that you do not wish to adhere to good, upstanding board governance. Having that means public transparency is at the forefront of your priorities. When constituents can see that you are doing the job that you were elected to do, they know you are fulfilling your responsibilities.