Nice that school board’s making effort to do right

A little sunshine made its way into a public meeting last week.

Portales’ school board acknowledged its recent failure in adhering to the state’s Open Meetings Act, then took action to correct errors and make the public’s business a little more transparent.

The board on April 12 went into executive session, saying it planned to discuss personnel or litigation, both of which are allowed under the law.
Unfortunately, board members did not discuss personnel or litigation in that secret meeting; they talked about which students were most worthy of receiving three scholarships.

The board also violated the law when it voted on winners privately rather than in public as required by the Open Meetings Act.

Our newspaper pointed out these concerns as we always try to do anytime a local entity sneaks into darkness to make a public decision.

But unlike most area entities, which respond by sending out lawyers with magnifying glasses in search of loopholes in the laws, the Portales school board chose to seek the light of day.

Board President Anthony Sanchez Jr. read a statement at Monday’s special meeting admitting “inadvertent error” in the April 12 actions.

Hooray.

OK, the skeptical among us raise eyebrows when someone suggests they misunderstood the difference between “talk about students” and “talk about personnel or lawsuits,” but the past is past, right?

Sanchez is correct in noting federal privacy laws allow board members to discuss student information privately. In the future, we trust he and fellow board members will cite the proper, specific reason for executive session, as the law requires, rather than throw out a generic, and illegal, “secret meeting” blanket that supposedly covers everything.

Executive session is not a place where elected officials can simply retreat to avoid public scrutiny. Its use is extremely limited under the law.
While they can talk about students, lawsuits, personnel matters and land purchases in private, they have a responsibility to the public to say which topic they’re addressing.

It’s also important to note the law allows such private meetings; it does not require them. Funny how public officials never seem to grasp that concept.

We’re a little disappointed the Portales school board members decided to make public their votes for students by number rather than by name. They claim they will put name with number in a public announcement later this month, and taxpayers certainly will expect them to follow through on that promise.

But overall, it’s nice to see public officials who seem genuinely concerned about doing the right thing when it comes to transparency.

Not only did the Portales school board ultimately follow the letter of the law, it made an effort to follow the law’s intentions so taxpayers can see what’s being done with their money.

We hope the city of Clovis, Curry County and other area entities will follow this example at every opportunity.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of Clovis Media Inc.’s editorial board, which consists of Editor David Stevens and Publisher Rob Langrell.