March 3, 2013

By Parker Himes

According to a recent opinion letter issued by the Office of the Attorney General, school boards may not withhold the names of employees against whom final action is taken. As a result, employees’ names must be used in the motion to be voted upon, but the decision does not address whether the employee name must be listed in the agenda.

Opining on a recent board decision to dismiss an employee, the Office of the Attorney General concluded that referring to an employee as “Employee A” during a termination vote taken at an open meeting violates the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”).   The Attorney General stated that by identifying the employee only as “‘Employee A,’ the public was deprived of any meaningful information concerning the practical effect of the Board’s decision.”  Further, it concluded that by not identifying the subject of the dismissal by name, “the Board did not fully comply with the requirements of section 2(e) of OMA that it ‘inform the public of the business being conducted.’”

Finally, the opinion letter addressed a board’s belief that the privacy interests of individual employees who are dismissed for cause outweigh the public’s right to learn the employee’s identity.  The Attorney General wrote that while this view is understandable, the OMA “does not permit a board to decline to reveal the identity of employees who are dismissed from public service in order to avoid embarrassment.  The public is entitled to information regarding the performance of public employees, particularly when their performance falls so far below accepted standards as to warrant discipline or discharge.”

In order to comply with the OMA, school boards must now identify by name employees against whom final action is taken.