Loudon County Board of Education may have to defend itself in court in regards to a possible violation of the state’s open meetings act.
A complaint for violation of the act was filed Thursday by Richard Truitt in the Circuit Court of Loudon County.
The complaint alleges, “A meeting ... of Loudon County School Board members took place on Aug. 31, 2017, at approximately 4 p.m. at the Loudon County Commission conference room,” for which public notice was not provided.
Jason Vance, director of schools, in a previous interview argued that the gathering was not a meeting but more of a forum.
“In my opinion, the chairman of the school board wanted to give an opportunity for community members to share their voice with school board policy and as a result give me ample time to craft that policy for the next board meeting,” Vance said last week.
A meeting, according to the open meetings act, occurs when, “The members of any public body which consists of two or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration.” Governmental meetings “are declared to be open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee.”
Truitt’s complaint alleges that Vance used the meeting “as a means to poll school board members and obtain input from school board members concerning an issue of public concern that was to be considered at a future school board meeting.”
A video recording of the meeting has been filed as evidence in the complaint, which states “there were extensive deliberations among school board members concerning the Loudon County School Board policy regarding school records.”
Lee Pope, open records counsel for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office, did not give a definitive standing in response to an inquiry from the News-Herald about the Aug. 31 gathering.
“If the gathering was an informational session in which information was merely provided to the board members, then it may not constitute a meeting under (the Tennessee Open Meetings Act),” Pope said in an email correspondence. “If the members discussed and deliberated matters for which a quorum of the board is necessary to make a decision, it may have been a ‘meeting’ and public notice should have been provided.”
According to Vance, board members did provide opinions in relation to policies 1.407 and 1.403, and planned to vote on the policies at the next BOE meeting.
Board members Leroy Tate, Scott Newman, Bobby Johnson Jr., Will Jenkins, Phil Moffat, Gary Ubben, Brian Brown and Ric Best were in attendance during the meeting, which was originally scheduled to be an executive committee meeting between Vance and Tate to set the upcoming BOE meeting budget.