Waddell column: OMA does not foster transparency

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, March 30, 2019

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As I sat in the hallway of Chico Elementary Wednesday night awaiting trustees to emerge from closed session, I watched as those in attendance at the start of the meeting left.

“They’ll be in there for hours,” one person told me as they walked to their car.

By the time the board reconvened, the clock read 9:56 – more than three hours after the meeting started. The board took action on a few items with minimal detail before quickly adjourning.

Reece Waddell

After two hours of deliberation behind closed doors, trustees did not even mention item 29: consideration of athletic director’s resignation.

I approached Superintendent Don Elsom with questions, specifically why the board took no action on the resignation and what was going on, but he informed me he was unable to comment.

I found myself like many parents and community members, confused and uninformed.

Part of the problem is the Texas Open Meeting Act (OMA).

The act states a school board may meet in closed session to discuss topics related to: attorney consultation, real property negotiations, prospective gift negotiations, personnel matters, employee v. employee complaints, student discipline, personally identifiable student information, medical or psychiatric records, security personnel, devices and audits, information resource technology security, emergency management, assessment instruments and economic development negotiations.

If you are keeping score at home, that is 13 different wide-ranging categories a school board may use to go into closed session.

What’s even more interesting is the OMA does not require a school board to go into closed session even if they are discussing one of those topics. Even hearings involving students or employees can be held in open session at their request.

The OMA does not foster transparency in any way. But that is only half of the problem.

While there are certain instances when a board should be allowed to discuss matters privately, too often they are using the cover the OMA provides to go behind the veil and discuss important issues in secret.

Wednesday night was no exception.

With rumors swirling as to why Chico athletic director and head football coach Clayton Sanders tendered his resignation, no information was offered publicly when the board reconvened. Minimal information was given afterward.

Trustees have an obligation to keep local taxpayers, parents and the community informed as to what is going on. Elsom eventually released a statement Thursday morning that said Sanders and one of his assistants were on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into alleged inappropriate actions.

Why wasn’t that released Wednesday? That seems like something the community should be made aware of at the board meeting.

Transparency, especially in our schools, is crucial. The problem isn’t just in Chico, but they are just another in a long list of schools that keep people in the dark.

Reece Waddell is the Messenger Sports Editor

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