The public should have access to the upcoming arbitration proceedings pitting former school Superintendent Romain Dallemand against the Bibb County school district, a state prosecutor said.
Closing the arbitration sessions to the public when there is a quorum of school board members on hand would violate Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, according to the state attorney general’s office.
In an Aug. 7 letter to the American Arbitration Association, Amanda Jones, an assistant state prosecutor, wrote, “The (arbitration) panel determined that the Open Meetings Act does not apply to this arbitration. Respectfully, I cannot agree with this determination.”
On July 7, an arbitration panel had ruled that the hearings would be conducted under the guidelines of the arbitration association’s confidentiality policy.
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However, as long as there is a quorum of school board members present at any arbitration proceeding — at least five members — then the state law governing open meetings should apply and the public should be allowed access, Jones said.
“There is no such exemption for arbitration proceedings (in the Open Meetings Act), either in the receiving of evidence or testimony before an arbitration panel nor in an arbitration panel’s interaction with one or more agencies that may be appearing before the panel as parties to the arbitration,” Jones wrote.
The ruling follows multiple attempts by The Telegraph through legal briefs and letters asking that the hearings be open. The school board’s attorney, Jerry Lumley, also filed a brief arguing for public access to the proceedings.
Dallemand opposed opening up the proceedings.
Dallemand filed a $10 million claim with the association in January, contending that school board members had violated provisions of his severance agreement with the system. The school board filed its own $7.5 million counterclaim in February.
Lumley declined to comment about the AG’s decision Friday, citing a confidentiality order imposed by the arbitration panel. The Telegraph could not reach the arbitration panel chairman, a AAA spokesperson or Dallemand for comment.
The letter from the AG’s office rebuffed the panel’s order regarding the confidentiality of hearings, stating that “a government agency may not use a private agreement to avoid its statutory responsibilities” under the open meetings law, and that state law supersedes the AAA’s confidentiality rules.
The letter said the panel should “allow access to members of the public at any time the arbitration meets the definition of a meeting under the Act.”
It concluded that doing otherwise “places members of the school district as well as members of this panel in peril of potential civil and criminal penalties” under the law.
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 or find him on Twitter @davidcschick.