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Arlington School Board charged with alleged open public meetings violations
ARLINGTON The Arlington School District was served with a complaint for alleged violations of the open public meetings act by the Spokane-based non-profit Center for Justice, and by the Allied Law Group, which represents clients on open-government cases.
According to Center for Justice Chief Catalyst Breean Beggs, who serves as the groups executive director, the Arlington School Districts Board of Directors conducted executive sessions and study sessions before their regular meetings, from March 13, 2006 through Feb. 25, 2008.
The open public meetings act specifies that, if government officials, including a school board, are going to be making decisions at a meeting, that meeting must have adequate public notice and be open to the public, with the exception of litigation and personal matters, Beggs said. What we saw was that the Arlington School Board had a developed a habit of meeting in executive or study sessions at 5:30 p.m., just before their regularly scheduled public meetings at 7 p.m., with no notice to the public. It was unclear if the public was allowed at those meetings or not.
Beggs stated that the Arlington School District had changed their policies after previously being reported to the Washington State Auditors Office for such alleged violations, but the Center for Justices complaint filed March 18 claims that the district had continued their practices even after changing their policies.
Under the law, they could be held accountable for $100 per attending official, per meeting, for every meeting thats determined to have violated the open public meetings act, Beggs said. If you had five school board members at a given meeting, that would be $500 in fines. Theyd also have to pay attorneys fees. Under the law, theres a clear risk of the decisions they made during those meetings being declared null and void, but we dont want to see that happen.
Arlington School District Public Information Coordinator Misti Gilman declined to answer questions pertaining to the lawsuit, since its an issue in litigation. However, she released a statement reporting that Arlington School Board agendas are posted online, the Thursdays or Fridays preceding each regularly scheduled public meeting, and that they always list study session items and notices of executive sessions when there. Gilman added that agendas are e-mailed to reporters at local and county newspapers.
Employees, parents, students and community members are welcome and encouraged to attend school board meetings and study sessions, said Gilman, who named David T. Hokit, of the Curran Law Firm, as the Arlington School Districts attorney.