Did West Ada trustees violate Idaho’s Open Meeting Law?

West Ada trustees voted Tuesday to offer the vacant superintendent’s job to Mary Ann Ranells even though the action was not listed on their agenda. (Click here to see the agenda).

Idaho’s Open Meeting Law requires agendas to “specifically set forth the purpose of the meeting and items of business. Agenda items should be listed with specificity.”

Boards can add items to an agenda after the meeting has started, but Tuesday’s agenda was never amended.

Trustee Russell Joki said his board did not act improperly because the whole purpose of the meeting was the superintendent’s candidacy. The agenda included three action items — two relating to a middle school site project, and a third, a “public forum” for Ranells to take questions.

The agenda included a closed executive session — set aside for trustee to interview Ranells. After the lengthy interview, the board returned to an open meeting and decided unanimously to offer Ranells a contract. The details of the contract are still pending and will be addressed at the January meeting, Joki said.

Attorney Elaine Eberharter-Maki was at Tuesday’s meeting and reviewed the agenda. Trustees acted based on “assurance from legal counsel,” Joki said.

The backstory

In late September, these same West Ada trustees decided the board had violated the Open Meeting Law by omitting an agenda item.

At issue was a June 23 executive session, when trustees discussed a contract extension for then-superintendent Linda Clark. The published agenda for this meeting made no mention of Clark’s contract. Joki is one of two new trustees who took office on July 1; the reconfigured board voted to void the contract extension.

Clark resigned in October, and the contract extension was one point of contention.

In an interview with Idaho Education News, Joki criticized the June 23 decision. “Going into executive session and coming out and voting on the superintendent contract was not an item on the agenda or a topic that matched the reason for going into executive session.”

Differing opinions on the board

On Wednesday, Joki said the two circumstances differ, since the whole purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to “make a determination” on Ranells.

Fellow trustee Mike Vuittonet called the decision to hire Ranells without notice on the agenda “hypocritical.”

“It’s an irony that shouldn’t go unnoticed,” said Vuittonet. “There was a lot going on (Tuesday) night but it would seem to me you should be consistent. Now we may need to self-correct.”

In September, Vuittonet was the lone board member to vote against voiding Clark’s contract. On Tuesday, he voted to hire Ranells. The motion passed unanimously.

Blaine County trustees face a similar open meetings issue, after extending superintendent GwenCarol Holmes’ contract in November.

One of West Ada’s neighboring districts, Middleton, voted to hire a new superintendent Monday night. The superintendent’s vacancy was listed on Monday’s agenda.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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