The scope of North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law turns on the smallest of phrases. Broadly setting forth the principle that the people’s business should be conducted in public view, the law specifies those few instances that an elected body “may” hold a closed session. That puts in the hands of officials the option — though not the necessity — of holding discussion behind closed doors in certain circumstances.
Those aspects of the state’s Open Meetings Law are particularly pertinent while reviewing the Pitt County Board of Education’s conduct as it seeks a replacement for departing Superintendent Beverly Emory. It would appear that the board has embraced the unfortunately common practice among elected bodies to pull the curtains closed when an open, transparent process would better serve the community.
On March 28, the Pitt County school board entered closed session citing a provision allowing it to “establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiation of the amount of compensation or other terms of an employment contract.” Vice Chairman Worth Forbes said the board voted in that closed session to hire the N.C. School Board Association to conduct the superintendent search process. No vote was taken in open session, which would appear to violate the Open Meetings Law.
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