Closed Buffalo School Board meeting on transition violated law - The Buffalo News

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Closed Buffalo School Board meeting on transition violated law

The Buffalo School Board may be just in the beginning stages of addressing a leadership transition plan for the district, but transparency concerns are already popping up.

The board violated the Open Meetings Law on Wednesday when the nine members met in closed session during its Executive Affairs Committee meeting and spent part of the time agreeing on a future meeting date to hash out a leadership transition plan after Superintendent Pamela Brown leaves office.

That discussion should have been held publicly, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. No exemption in the law would permit any board to discuss such a topic privately.

Since then, the board has sent out an announcement stating that President Barbara Seals Nevergold has called a special meeting of the board for 4 p.m. Wednesday. The announcement goes on to say, “The purpose of this meeting is to discuss personnel matters.”

The board typically invokes this language to indicate that it plans to hold the meeting in a closed session that would bar the public from attending. But Freeman said many personnel matters are not exempt from the Open Meetings Law.

“If they’re talking about what steps to take in a transition plan, it may be a personnel issue, but it would fall outside the scope of any basis for conducting an executive session,” Freeman said. “The focus would involve a process, not any particular person.”

For instance, opinions regarding how long an interim superintendent should serve, and what process the board may want use to consider and vet successor candidates, would not be exempt from the Open Meetings Law.

If particular people are being discussed as candidates for promotion to an interim superintendent’s position, he said, that discussion could be held in closed session after the board identifies the specific legal exemption that allows this.

But citing “personnel matters” broadly is insufficient reason to bar the public from the meeting, he said.

The board has to come up with a leadership transition plan in the wake of this month’s elections. A new majority was elected, and it is ready to oust Brown if she does not negotiate a resignation settlement.

After the 4 p.m. special meeting in Room 801 of City Hall, the board will also hold its regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 in the same place.


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