School board action illegal, state says

Published 11:30 pm Friday, July 20, 2012

Trustees and the superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when they engaged in telephone polling to make board decisions and then later ratified those votes, the executive director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission said Friday.

“The only way they can vote is in open meeting, or in executive session, which is a legally posted meeting,” said Tom Hood.

Even if decisions are later ratified in an open meeting, the initial polling was illegal, he said.

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School district trustees have participated in more than a dozen telephone polls later ratified at 10 separate board meetings in the last two years, according to agendas and official meeting minutes.

The votes have included personnel moves, the purchase of school buses, use of school buses by community groups and the construction of the Vicksburg High School field house. Most were ratified without public discussion via what the board terms the adoption of a “consent agenda.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 1985 in a case involving the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning that telephone polls of board members were illegal, Hood said.

“Use of telephone to poll members of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning was violative of open meetings requirement (Code 1972, subsection 25-41-7[4]) insofar as it operated to prevent public disclosure of deliberation and conduct of business,” the ruling states.