- Weekday Morning Meetings
- January 25, 2017
- Law Firm: McCormick Barstow Sheppard Wayte Carruth LLP - Fresno Office
Question: May a county board of education lawfully schedule all or any of its regular meetings to occur on weekday mornings rather than in the evening?
Answer: The school statutes contemplate that county boards will schedule and hold regular meetings. However, the statutes do not expressly dictate that regular meetings be held in the evening or that regular meetings cannot be held in the morning.
The Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires a school board to give advance notice of regular meetings to the public and news media. The Act specifies that the notice must include the date, time, place and agenda of all regularly scheduled meetings. See West Virginia Code § 6-9A-3. But the Act does not address the time of day that a regular meeting may occur.
Be aware that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and circuit courts have repeatedly ruled that a county board of education “must abide by the remedies and procedures it properly establishes to conduct its affairs.” Powell v. Brown, 160 W. Va. 723, 238 S.E.2d 220 (1977). Accordingly, before scheduling regular meetings for the morning hours, a board should first determine whether any of its own policies prohibit morning meetings or require that regular meetings be held in the evening. Until any such policy is duly amended or repealed, the board is bound by its terms.
Finally, a county board that conducts morning meetings should anticipate that in some circumstances, members of the public interested in attending board meetings, including members of the school community, may take issue if morning meetings conflict with their other commitments, such as work and child care, and thus make it difficult or impossible for them to attend.
As noted, the Open Governmental Proceedings Act does not specifically prohibit public bodies from holding regular meetings in the morning. However, the Legislature’s stated purpose in passing the Act includes the importance of citizen participation in public meetings:
“The Legislature hereby finds and declares that public agencies in this state exist for the singular purpose of representing citizens of this state in governmental affairs, and it is, therefore, in the best interests of the people of this state for the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly, with only a few clearly defined exceptions. The Legislature hereby further finds and declares that the citizens of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the governmental agencies that serve them. The people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government created by them.
“Open government allows the public to educate itself about government decision making through individuals' attendance and participation at government functions, distribution of government information by the press or interested citizens, and public debate on issues deliberated within the government.”
West Virginia Code § 6-9A-1. Persons who object to a morning meeting schedule can be expected to cite this Legislative intent as a reason to urge that regular meetings occur after, rather than during, the usual workday.