Court Decision: Wake School Board Violated State Open Meetings Law
Advocates say the ruling is a “victory for open and transparent government”
RALEIGH (April 19, 2011) — The North Carolina Court of Appeals today found that the Wake County School Board violated the state Open Meetings Act by intentionally excluding the public from meetings about the county’s diversity policy last year.
The ruling formally affirms a previous Wake County Superior Court decision, and in so doing clearly states that the school board violated North Carolina’s Open Meetings Act both through a ticket policy and the exclusion of the public from the Committee of the Whole.
“This is a great victory for the rights of all citizens to open and transparent government,” said Mark Dorosin of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. “It is also, I believe, a decisive statement that the school board cannot continue to attempt to push through its agenda without meaningful input and scrutiny from the public.”
The ruling specifically cites violations that took place at the March 23 school board meeting. The core of the court’s holding is that the school board’s actions violated the Open Meetings Act and the public trust that it codifies.
The decision was a 3-0 ruling. Both Wake County Superior Court and the Court of Appeals have now found the Wake County School Board in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The open meetings lawsuit was brought by a diverse group of Wake County parents and students, who were represented by multiple groups, including the UNC Center for Civil Rights, NC Justice Center, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC NAACP, and private attorneys.
“Community engagement is critical to democracy,” said Swain Wood, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “This ruling is an important stand against public officials who attempt to ignore and shut out opposing viewpoints by violating the law.”
According to the Court of Appeals decision, “[t]he complete exclusion of members of the public from the COW meeting for a significant portion of the meeting is the most obvious violation of the Open Meetings Law in this case . . . particularly as there was a larger room immediately available in the same building[.]“… “The convenience of the members of the COW and staff was not a sufficient reason to deny public access.”
The ruling also rejected the School Board’s cross-appeal, calling their attempt to keep the dismissal but remove from the order the findings they do not like as “inconsistent with the fundamental precept of Anglo-American jurisprudence that you cannot have your cake and eat it, too[.]”
For more information, please contact: Mark Dorosin, Senior Managing Attorney, UNC Center For Civil Rights, 919-843-7896.