Chairman's Gavel: Email and open meetings law
By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development
While board presidents aren’t the board policeman, they can do a great service to their colleagues by being mindful of how information is communicated using email.
Board members and the superintendent can – and often do – share information with each other about issues, concerns or events via email. These can range from the superintendent's update about an event at a school to a preview of an item the superintendent or a board member believes the board should address at a future meeting.
However, under the Open Meetings Act, a quorum of the board may not deliberate about issues or action outside a public meeting. If a quorum of the board begins to share their thoughts or preferences about an upcoming issue (such as whether to create a new position, hire a specific individual or approve a construction project), the OMA deems that a “meeting” even if the discussion is occurring in cyberspace.
As president, you can help head off allegations that the board is holding illegal meetings by ensuring your members understand that they may receive information about an issue via email, but they should either a) withhold comment or b) direct any comment only to one person, not the entire group. This ensures you don’t get a quorum of the board involved in the discussion.
This also applies when a quorum of the board is together in a social or other situation that doesn’t involve an official meeting. Take care that a casual conversation doesn’t drift to board business and accidently become board deliberation. Otherwise, the board likely will violate the OMA.
Originally published in September 2013.