The split of the Jordan School District presents challenges rarely, if ever, encountered in Utah. It may indeed lead to litigation as both sides try to divide assets and bond obligations fairly.
But this struggle can't be allowed to strain the state's open meetings law, which is supposed to make sure the public sees exactly what is going on.
A Jordan District board member, who also happens to work weekends as a wire editor at this newspaper, has raised objections to six closed meetings the west-side transition team held in April, as well as to one held this month. The west-side team has held more closed meetings than the east-side group. Other members of the public have objected to the closed meetings, as well.
While the public always has trouble knowing whether a closed meeting was legitimate, because it doesn't have access to what went on, suspicions are especially aroused when the closed sessions drag on and on, and when the stated reasons are questionable.
The team itself says it closed the meetings to discuss hiring an attorney, as well as personal issues concerning a committee member. More closed meetings are likely in order to discuss arbitration.
Some of these reasons are legitimate, while others are not. For instance, there is no provision in the law to discuss personal issues. A public body can close a meeting to discuss the "character, professional competence or physical or mental health of an individual." If someone has personal reasons for wanting to quit, that simply doesn't qualify.
Also, while the west-side team's recent rejection of a negotiated proposal has led to some frank talk about arbitration, the law clearly states that only in the case of "pending or reasonably imminent litigation" can a meeting be closed for fear of a lawsuit. Opinions may differ, but the splitting of the Jordan District does not appear to have yet reached the point where legal action is pending or reasonably imminent.
If the team wishes to close the meeting, it must publicly state the reason, then receive support from two-thirds of the members present. Those names should be included in the minutes. Then, the closed meeting should be recorded. By law, only the stated item can be discussed during the closed session. This is what makes hours-long closed sessions so troubling.
We don't envy the difficult task of these transition teams. But as their work involves possible tax increases and issues affecting public education, it is especially important that the public's rights be protected.