De la Howe board needs schooling
Sunday, February 16, 2014 12:04 AM
It would seem additional schooling is needed at John de la Howe School in McCormick County. Not for the students, mind you, but rather for the board of trustees.
In particular, the board could use some education on how a public body is supposed to function. Last week, as the winter storm swept across the state, de la Howe trustees selected a new interim president. They did so through a series of telephone calls.
While we can certainly understand the importance of maintaining safety and not venturing out during a winter storm, what the board did was completely illegal. First, the board should have provided the public a minimum of 24 hours notice of a meeting. Second, that meeting needed to take place in a physical location. Third, there has to be a public vote taken to appoint an interim president.
We'll allow that some members could have participated by way of conference call, but public bodies simply cannot conduct the public's business over the telephone lines or cell towers. Perhaps that's one of the problems with the de la Howe board. Maybe it sees itself as conducting its own business, not the public's. Certainly, any number of public boards chose to operate as though they are accountable to no one but themselves.
It is a shame board chairwoman Jan Duncan sees nothing wrong with how Danny Webb was named the interim president. A formal meeting was unnecessary, she told the newspaper.
"It was a board action, but it did not call for a board meeting," she said.
Uh, no. That would be wrong. Our money is on the opinion of Jay Bender, the longtime attorney for the South Carolina Press Association who is regarded as an expert on open meetings laws in this state.
"That was an illegal action," Bender said. "Polling (which is precisely how the board tapped its new interim president) is specifically prohibited by the law."
Duncan's not new to the board and as that board's chairwoman, she certainly should be better acquainted with the rules surrounding how meetings are to be conducted.
Webb, who served in a couple of capacities since joining the school's administration in 2008, told the Index-Journal he intends to focus on transparency, among other things, in his new role. That's good to hear, but remains to be seen as the board has a very checkered history.
To help the new president and the board he now serves and must work with, we are going to provide free copies of the "Public Official's Guide to Compliance with South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act."
We hope each will take a break from illegal phone meetings and the like and take time to read the guide. It's all of 15 pages and is fairly easy to comprehend. Their attorney can have a copy as well, if need be.