School board’s business must be public
The Roaring Fork School District board needs to calm down and check its collective ego.The board is indignant about a story the Glenwood Springs Post Independent published April 10. The story questioned whether board members violated open meetings laws when they decided to hire Judy Haptonstall as their new superintendent. The Aspen Times also ran the story.The story didn’t question the decision itself; it suggested that the board may have acted improperly in making the decision behind closed doors.Public agencies exist to conduct the public’s business, and a whole body of law exists to ensure that citizens understand what their elected officials do. So-called “sunshine laws” in Colorado and other states serve the public interest by requiring that government conduct its business in open meetings.Most public agencies, the school district included, abide these laws and make their decisions in public. And when they don’t, whether deliberately or accidentally, newspapers should call them on it. In fact, if newspapers don’t perform this watchdog role, then they’re falling down on the job.So why do we reiterate this civics lesson today?Because, when faced with an April 10 story that bore the headline “Superintendent selection may have violated open meetings law” – take note here, because neither the story nor the headline stated that a law was violated; only that a violation may have occurred – school officials went ballistic.Board president Michael Bair compared questions from the press to “a loaded gun that is aimed at our schools and our kids” and went on to suggest that board members refuse to talk to the press and answer only questions that are submitted in writing.We’ll ignore the blather about reporters aiming rhetorical guns at children. But let’s see if we can understand the second part, the bit about refusing to speak with the press.According to Bair, it’s a problem for the local newspaper to question whether the school board has followed open meetings laws, and the solution to said problem is to shut down or impede communications with the newspaper.This is a poor solution to a nonproblem.Public officials have a moral and legal obligation to do their business in public, and newspapers exist to hold them to it. If Bair and the rest of the school district board don’t like the scrutiny, then they shouldn’t have run for public office.Get over it.
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