For probably the first time in its history, TV cameras came to a board meeting of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative. Given that the state has yanked MCEC’s multi-million-dollar contract to run the federal GEAR UP program, given that its two (two? really?) business managers and their four children died by shotgun and were incinerated along with their $1.3-million house, and given that Governor Dennis Daugaard has ordered a thorough investigation of the head business manager’s finances and the management of GEAR UP, MCEC surely wasn’t surprised at the attention.
They didn’t seem pleased with it, either:
After discussing other grants and programs, the co-op then kicked out our camera.
“We are now declaring an executive session,” [MCEC exec Dan] Guericke said.
The superintendents have been in executive session for over an hour to meet with Mid Central’s attorney Scott Swier.
In all, the group met behind closed doors for nearly three hours.
Mid Central’s attorney tells me during the executive session the board appointed Stephanie Hubers as interim business manager for Mid Central and they hired an independent financial consultant and appointed four people to a budget committee [Angela Kennecke, “Mid-Central Takes Action on Finances, Dodges Questions About GEAR UP,” KELO-TV, 2015.10.08].
Wait a minute: MCEC took action during executive session? That can’t happen. Educational cooperatives are creatures of statute, created and overseen by public school districts. Educational cooperatives must follow the same open meeting laws as their constituent school boards and other public bodies. Public bodies can close the doors to discuss a limited set of items (personnel, legal matters, contract negotiations…), but the board (not the exec, mind you, the board) has to approve a motion specifying the reason for the executive session, and the board has to open the doors again before taking any formal action stemming from that discussion. MCEC can’t appoint or hire anybody or authorize any other action in executive session.
Kennecke may simply have worded things wrong (she’s been working awfully hard lately; I can understand the occasional slip in the closing paragraph). The AP report on KSFY says MCEC “voted afterward [after the executive session] to appoint Stephanie Hubers as the interim replacement for former employee Scott Westerhuis.” Let’s hope AP’s version is right and KELO’s is wrong.
Decisions made in executive session would constitute a violation of open meeting laws. Given the current media scrutiny, MCEC should make sure every action they take is transparent and by the book and reported that way by the suddenly and properly curious press.