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Board's vote to fire Marple may be violation of Open Meetings law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Board of Education apparently violated state Open Meetings law by taking action on an item not on the board's published meeting agenda, the executive director of the Ethics Commission said Thursday.

"You can't add an agenda item unless it's an emergency," Theresa Kirk said, commenting on the board's vote to fire Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple.

The state Open Meetings law prohibits public bodies from taking action on matters not posted in their published meeting agenda, and prohibits amending agendas within two business days of the scheduled meeting, except in emergencies.

Emergencies are defined under the law as an "unexpected situation or sudden occurrence of a serious nature, such as an event that threatens public health and safety."

Neither the agenda of the Nov. 15 meeting, nor the attachment for personnel matters referenced any action regarding the employment status of the superintendent.

According to meeting accounts, Board President Wade Linger announced after a brief recess that the board was going to vote on an additional personnel matter, and distributed a one-page document to board members terminating Marple's employment at the end of the workday.

In its most recent Open Meetings advisory opinion regarding the publishing of agendas, from 2011, the Ethics Commission was adamant that the law requires any items requiring official action to be published in advance in the meeting agenda.

"The commission has stated the agenda requirement compromises an essential element of every regular meeting, because a proper agenda facilitates meaningful public participation in the process of open government," the opinion states.

However, Kirk stressed that the Ethics Commission does not have legal authority to take action on potential violations of the law.

"The Ethics Commission doesn't have jurisdiction to enforce the Open Meetings Act," she said. "It would have to be in a circuit court."

Kirk added, "Only a court, not the Ethics Commission, can state whether this is a violation."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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