Q&A: Replacing school board member

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From the Daily Reporter (Greenfield):

Q: We have a school board candidate who is vacating his board seat this month because he was elected to the county council in November. It was announced that the board had narrowed down his replacements to three, and those three would be interviewed during an executive meeting next week. The two board members who are conducting the interviews are the only board members who will actually serve with this replacement member who is chosen.

The terms of the remaining two board members are over Dec. 31. The fifth board member is the one being replaced early. What do you think about this? 

A: The Open Door Law allows a governing body to meet in executive session to discuss applicants or develop a list of potential candidates to fill a vacancy of this sort.

In that executive session they can cut the list down to no fewer than three, at which point they must identify the finalists if asked. Interviews of the candidates must be done in an open meeting by a governing body.

In your situation, the school board is not conducting the interviews. But if the interviewing process is being done by a committee of the whole, it still is subject to the Open Door Law.

If they didn’t make the two members who are conducting the interviews a committee, how did they get charged with the job of conducting the interviews?

It appears it might be an attempt to circumvent the requirement that interviews be done in public.

I’d ask them how they believe they can avoid IC 5-14-1.5-6.1(b)(10), which requires a governing body to interview prospective appointees in a meeting open to the public.

If they say they’re not a quorum, I’d say true, but who delegated the interview process to the two of them?

If they say the school board, they are a committee appointed by the school board and still subject to the Open Door Law.

If they say that they decided to develop a list and conduct interviews on their own, then I’d be talking to the other two school board members coming on about being left out of the process.

The law is clear on the openness of interviews.

At best the Indiana public access counselor might find they haven’t violated the letter of the law (if the duo isn’t considered a committee of the school board), but I think the actions violate the intent and spirit of the law.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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