You may recall that earlier this spring the Pulaski County School District superintendent called for bids from private companies to take over the district's transportation services. Today the low-bidding company's representatives are in town meeting with some school board members individually at the district's administration building. That set-up circumvents FOI laws that treat most gatherings of two or more board members as public meetings.
Superintendent James Sharpe is out on medical leave, and the district's chief financial officer, Larry O'Brien, who's attending the meetings, hasn't returned our phone call yet. But board member Danny Gililland said the district administration set up the meetings so board members could ask questions and receive information privately.
Whether such meetings violate the letter of the state FOI law isn't clear. The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled it's illegal to poll board members one-by-one in individual conversations even if the board later takes a public vote on the issue, but that decision didn't address meetings that were supposed to be strictly informational.
Gililland said he hadn't thought about such meetings having the effect of shutting the public out, but he understands the concerns. Still, he said, he appreciated having the chance to ask what might be stupid questions "without making an idiot of myself."
We get that, but can't agree that a public official's desire to not look stupid trumps the public's right to know that official's decision-making process.