After an inquiry from the state Attorney General’s office, Bibb County school Superintendent Romain Dallemand reversed course and will not meet with the school board in small groups Friday that would have been closed to the public.
During the board’s Jan. 19 school board meeting, Dallemand said he planned to meet with school board members about the system’s forthcoming strategic plan a week before its unveiling Feb. 10.
Those small-group meetings would have been closed because there wouldn’t have been a quorum of school board members in any of them, Dallemand said last month. According to board members, the superintendent had been planning to split the eight-member board into groups of four during a morning and afternoon session. Five members constitute a quorum of Bibb’s school board members.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter called the school system’s attorney last week after reading The Telegraph’s story about the Jan. 19 meeting, according to Lauren Kane, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office. In an e-mail that school chief legal counsel Randy Howard sent Wednesday to Ritter, “Dr. Dallemand will not be meeting in small group discussions with board members on the Strategic Plan.”
Board member Gary Bechtel said there are now plans in the works for a called meeting of the full board at 4 p.m. Friday, although the school system has not yet announced it and no agenda was available Wednesday afternoon. Several board members raised concerns previously that the small-group meetings were not transparent.
“I’m glad we’re going to be able to hear what (Dallemand) has to say in response to (questions about the meetings) in public,” Bechtel said. “The community deserves that, and the board deserves that.”
Howard confirmed that he had communicated with Ritter about the matter and discussed it with Dallemand before sending a response to the Attorney General’s Office. However, Howard said he would not discuss why the meetings had been canceled, citing attorney-client privilege.
“You would have to talk to Dr. Dallemand about that,” Howard said.
Alisha Allen-Carter, assistant to the superintendent, said she would follow up on a Telegraph inquiry about why the small-group meetings were canceled, but she did not.
By state law, meetings of a quorum of members can only be closed to the public to discuss personnel, future acquisition of property or pending litigation.
Now, meetings of public officials when there is no quorum present may be addressed by state lawmakers.
Proposed changes to Georgia’s open meetings law would explicitly forbid a governing body from holding meetings with more than two but less than a quorum of members to get around the law’s open meetings requirements.
“Openness is always the best option,” David Hudson, general counsel to the Georgia Press Association, wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph. “Elected officials under the Georgia Constitution are designated as ‘servants’ of the people. ‘Servants’ should, as a first principle, give as much information and public access as is possible. Only an overwhelming public interest should lead elected officials to choose an exception to openness, even when an exception is granted by law.”
Hollie Manheimer, executive director with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, also said public governing bodies should operate as openly as possible.
“The Open Meetings Act is designed to benefit the public and allow it to monitor the business of its elected officials,” Manheimer said. “The more public business done in the public eye, the better for all concerned, including the public and its elected officials. In fact, the courts of Georgia have even stated that meetings do not have to be closed, and the public business can always be done out in the open.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.