No violation against Bell Board in open meeting decision

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019

In a decision handed down from Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Bell County Board of Education did not violate the Open Meetings Act on March 5, 2019 when the Superintendent Yvonne Gilliam and the board members had a discussion prior to a special meeting.

On March 25, 2019 Gary Smith filed an appeal with the Attorney General’s Office as to whether the Bell County Board of Education violated the Open Meetings Act, specifically 61.823(3), and the office found that the Board did not violate the provisions of the Act.

The reason stated in the decision released from the Attorney General’s Office states, “Because discussion of whether to receive an update from the superintendent regarding the ongoing contract dispute with Pineville Independent Schools via telephone or during a special meeting did not constitute a substantive discussion of public business that implicated KRS 61.810(1).”

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Smith stated in the appeal that the superintendent and the board members “reached a consensus that she would contact each member by telephone.” He quoted KRS 61.805(1) and (3) alleging that in holding the “casual gathering” in anticipation of its March 5 special meeting and “making a collective decision” regarding the method of relaying the information, the board violated the Act.

Smith also claimed, “The board violated KRS 61.823(3) in discussing public business that was not identified on the agenda for the special meeting.”

The decision reads, “Superintendent Yvonne Gilliam and the five board members discussed whether they preferred to call another special meeting for the purpose of discussing any information that she learned from the attorney representing the board in the ongoing contract dispute with the Pineville Independent Board of Education, or if they preferred for Superintendent Gilliam to contact each member individually.”

In a March 6 written complaint that was directed to Chairperson Eulene Brock, per KRS61.846(1), Smith proposed that Chairperson Brock and Superintendent Gilliam acknowledge the violation and provide a public apology and attend training on the procedural requirements of the Open Meetings Act to prevent future violations.

Shea Dunn Yoakum, Board Attorney, directed a letter to Smith on March 20 notifying him that the complaint was received on March 13.

Yoakum emphasized in her return letter to Smith that, “At no time did the superintendent go on to discuss the information she had obtained, and there was no collective decision or vote by the board on her inquiry.” She also noted, “In fact, several board members were discussing other items amongst themselves, and one member indicated that he was unaware of what Superintendent Gilliam said.

The appeal decision stated that Superintendent Gilliam ended the conversation by stating that she would just call each member individually, and the board then held the special meeting as planned.

“The conversation that Superintendent Gilliam initiated was not a substantive discussion of any issue. Accordingly, ‘it did not constitute a discussion of public business by the board, as defined by KRS 61.805 and Yeoman; there was no action taken by the board, and as such there was no violation of KRS 61.810 by the Board,’” said Yoakum. “When viewed in light of 13-OMD-086, and the authorities upon which that decision was premised, the record in this appeal does not validate Mr. Smith’s allegations.”

Either party may appeal the decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court pursuant to KRS 61.846(4)(a). The attorney general shall be notified of any action in circuit court but shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings.