Last week, a reporter emailed me about a school board in the state holding a closed meeting for purposes of hiring personnel. Certainly that is a proper purpose for a closed meeting. But, he has been told, in his hour-long meeting, AFTER the five-minute discussion and vote to hire staff, the rest of the time was spent talking about the basketball coach. Probably that was appropriate for a closed meeting under exception three of 610.021, too. BUT where the problem arises is that NO vote was taken on the matter. How is that a problem, you ask? Well, the next day the principal, ACTING ON INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE BOARD, approached the coach and told him that his contract would not be renewed.
Huh? How could that be, you ask? The board did not vote on any measure in the closed meeting, so how could there be a decision made? Well, the reporter wants to know if the sunshine law allows a vote to be avoided by an act of "consensus"?
I'm afraid that's not possible. A board cannot act without a vote. There can be no decisions without motions and seconds and votes. Any board that thinks it is acting "by consensus" is really simply skipping a step -- the step of recognizing that everyone would vote in a particular way. The fact that a vote was not taken doesn't mean that a vote didn't happen "by consensus." If anything, this is just sloppy board etiquette or process. Anytime there is a recognition of board members' stand on an issue, there's been a de facto vote.
A discussion is fine. A decision means a vote happened, like it or not. See it or not. But when you don't record it by roll-call vote, you've broken the law.
My new year's resolution, you ask? Legislation to strengthen the sunshine law, of course! 2008 -- it's gonna be great! Wishing all of you a wonderful new year!