School Board: Changes coming to committee meetings
Some confusion reigned Monday during a special meeting of the Brainerd School Board. During the meeting, the board took official action on a few items, as five of the six members were in attendance, which constitutes a quorum of the board. Board ...
Some confusion reigned Monday during a special meeting of the Brainerd School Board.
During the meeting, the board took official action on a few items, as five of the six members were in attendance, which constitutes a quorum of the board. Board member Chris Robinson was absent Monday.
However, while discussing a couple agenda items, the board appeared to move into a committee structure, in order to make committee recommendations on those items. The finance committee, chaired by board member Reed Campbell and including board members Tom Haglin and Sue Kern, made a unanimous recommendation to approve the first revision to the district's budget to the full board. The full school board then approved the finance committee's recommendation on a 4-1 vote, with chair Bob Nystrom voting against the motion.
There seemed to be some confusion among the board members about the structure of the meeting. The agenda listed the meeting as a "Special School Board - Finance and Staffing Meeting," and following the meeting, Superintendent Laine Larson confirmed the meeting was a special meeting of the full school board. However, it was unclear which items on the agenda would be acted upon by the full board or by the finance and personnel committees.
"It just felt cumbersome," Larson said.
Trying to hold a committee meeting and a special school board meeting at the same time is an odd way to do business, said Mark Anfinson, a Twin Cities attorney specializing in open meeting law. The meeting remained open the whole time and it wasn't improper, he said, but the board can't flip a switch and go back and forth between meeting as a committee and the full body.
Previously, the school board would hold committee meetings and frequently, non-committee members would be present, creating a quorum of the school board. All the board members would attend committee meetings because they strived for transparency, Larson said, and to ensure each board member had all the information available to them on a certain issue.
"It's kind of a neat structure, actually," Larson said. "Because it's a lot of extra time to do that and this board is really committed to that."
The board has since moved away from this practice and is instead exploring the idea of calling a special meeting of the school board.
"Let's just call a special meeting," Larson said. "And if we do that, then we can actually vote at the meeting, if we wish to do that."
Having all board members attend committee meetings is an improper way to conduct business under the open meeting law, Anfinson said.
"If a quorum is there and there's public business occurring, they've got to treat it as a meeting of the full school board," Anfinson said.
For a few meetings last year, the board held committee meetings but noted on the agenda a full quorum of the board may be present. The district has moved away from this, Larson said, because it was brought to their attention that when a quorum is present, a special meeting should be called.
From here, the board can either keep its committees in place and only allow committee members to come to committee meetings, or eliminate the committees and instead call special meetings of the school board to discuss committee business, Anfinson said. The board is currently deciding between these options and should make a decision at the Feb. 13 meeting, Larson said.
When it comes to the open meeting law, what a meeting is called isn't relevant, Anfinson said. What's important is two factors: whether a quorum of board members is present and whether those members are discussing public business, he said. If both those factors are met, the body is subject to the open meeting law and becomes a special meeting of the full school board.
"You can't get away with calling it a committee meeting if a quorum of the full board is there," Anfinson said. "It doesn't work that way."