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BOE ‘required’ to discuss personnel issues in closed session?

By Rachel Shirey

rshirey@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — Chairwoman Pam Adamson told citizens board members are “restricted” and must discuss personnel issues in executive session at Monday night’s meeting.

“State law says you have to discuss personnel issues in executive session,” Adamson said. “You cannot do it out here in front of an audience.”

However, according to Georgia’s open meetings and open records law, that’s simply not true.

“A public agency, such as the Clayton County Board of Education, is not required to meet in a closed session,” said David Hudson, an attorney considered an expert on the Open Meetings Act. “The specific text of the open meetings law at O.C.G.A. 50-14-3(b) states that ‘executive session shall be permitted for ... ’ It does not say that executive sessions are required or mandatory.”

Hudson went on to explain “an executive session can be convened only by majority vote of the Board or Council members in a public meeting. Thus if there is not a majority vote to meet in a closed session, the meeting must place take in the open.”

The board of education is allowed to vote to close a meeting only to discuss limited topics, such as pending litigation, personnel issues and real estate acquisitions.

“We just do what we have to do in executive session,” Adamson said. “It’s hard to rush people along, and frankly we don’t like to be rushed along if we’re discussing in executive session.”

The BOE met in executive session more than 40 minutes Monday. In fact, the Clayton County BOE has a history of going into lengthy executive sessions almost every time it meets.

Following several complaints, executive session was moved down the agenda this month to allow public participation to take place ahead of time.

Adamson also added that discussing student issues, employee issues or real estate acquisitions in public could have a waterfall effect that would hinder the end result. For instance, discussing student or employee issues publicly could pose privacy issues, and discussing future real estate could raise prices, she suggested.

In other news, the board was able to discuss all business, including a stretch in executive session, in an hour and a half — the shortest documented meeting since 2010, according to the board’s website.