"Attorney General Rules on Open Meeting Act Violations by Educators"

Alan Jacobsen, retiring Educational Service Unit (ESU) #6 board member, applauded the Attorney Generals opinion issued this past week that found the ESU administrators guilty of violating the Open Meetings Law. The 11 page opinion said in short that the Administrators, while acting as the "governing council" of the 1% Core Service Inter Local Agreement (ILA), fall within the definition of a public body and are required to hold their meetings in public.

Jacobsen said "this is a victory for the people. It reaffirmed that the people's business is supposed to be done in public". For the past 6 years the administrators have been meeting in secret and making decisions that involve substantial public monies.

Darrel Eberspacher, Chairman of the Board for ESU #6, who was mentioned in the opinion, said he "has been concerned for some time about the ESU board responsibilities that have been transferred to or usurped by the administrators association, thereby limiting public accountability". In the written opinion, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Donley stated in part, "we fully acknowledge that the documentation you have provided us suggests there are significant issues with respect to the delegation of authority from the ESU's to the ESUAA." Ms Donley later in the opinion states that ultimately the responsibility of defining the roles and duties of the administrators is up to the boards. Eberspacher said that he "hopes this ruling will help cultivate a culture of accountability that has been lacking for some time."  

Jacobsen added, "the administrators have used an uncanny close association with the Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen to gain a strong hold over the elected ESU boards". Ms. Donley, Assistant Attorney General states in part, "We have examined the evidence relating to the Commissioner, and have determined that the Commissioner did send Deputy Feis (along with other NDE personnel) to a number of ESU and ESUAA meetings, but only for the purpose of sharing information." Jacobsen added, "while the opinion fell short of citing wrong doing on the part of the Commissioner it cast a poor light on educational professionals who by virtue of their paid positions should know better than to attend meetings where decisions are being made in secret."

Jacobsen further referenced correspondence earlier this year apprising the Commissioner of this possible wrong doing. Jacobsen said "the Commissioner refused to help correct the violations." This makes the Commissioner and his subordinates who attended the meetings suspect when it comes to Open Meeting requirements.

This opinion comes on the heels of an eight page letter released by Senator Chris Beutler, Chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee, challenging the Commissioner's refusal to cooperate with the Legislative Audit Committee. The Commissioner has refused to allow a performance audit on the expensive STARS assessment program. Jacobsen quoted from the 8 page letter released by Senator Chris Beutler, chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee. It stated in part,    

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve  them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them  to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control  over the instruments they have created". (Wash. Rev. Code 42.30.01)

Jacobsen added that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to decisions being made behind closed doors. The Attorney General's opinion acknowledges that based on information provided during the investigation that business being conducted in these secret meetings is "problematic on many levels." The Attorney General on the other hand said that they "have no authority to generally supervise governmental subdivisions in Nebraska or to formally investigate or sanction the ESUAA with respect to its general operation."

It is unclear why the Attorney General does not have powers to investigate possible wrong doing when there is so much evidence to the contrary. Jacobsen said that "this is why the current on-going legal action brought against the administrators in Keith County for similar violations is so important." The Keith County Court case addresses both open meeting violations and budgetary decisions that were made during these secret meetings.

Jacobsen concluded by saying, "he hopes tax payer monies are not used to defend the administrators in these proceedings since they were done in violation of the Open Meetings Law. Taxpayers should not be asked to pay for the improper actions of professionals who should know better. This only takes money away from teachers and children in the class room where it was intended to be used.

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