Sustained Outrage

WVU Secrecy II

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(The WVU Board of Governors: From Left to Right: Front row: William O. Nutting, Parry G. Petroplus(former member), Raymond J. Lane, Paul Martinelli, Carolyn Long, Ellen Cappellanti, Dr. Thomas S. Clark, Dr. J. Steven Kite Back row: Oliver Luck, John T. (Ted) Mattern, Dr. Charles Vest, Stephen P. Goodwin, Jason Parsons, Edward L. Robinson, and James W. Dailey, II (Not pictured: Andrew A. (Drew) Payne, III and Diane Lewis)

williams.jpgclements.jpgOn Friday, the West Virginia University Board of Governors is expected to select a new president for the state’s flagship university. The two finalists are Gregory H. Williams (left), president of City College of New York since 2001, and James P. Clements, provost at Towson University in Maryland.

It seems likely that the Board of Governors will have all of its discussion about which candidate is right for WVU behind closed doors, in a private, executive session. Already, The Associated Press reports, both candidates — in Morgantown for meetings with faculty, staff and students — are scheduled to meet privately with the WVU board. And the board’s meeting agenda for Friday already states that the board members will hold an executive session to “discuss personnel matters related to the WVU Presidential Search.”

The WVU board, like most government agencies in West Virginia, will pretend that it is required to have these discussions about personnel issues in private. Nothing could be further from the truth.

West Virginia’s open meetings law does indeed allow agencies to kick out the public for discussions of “… matters arising from the appointment, employment, retirement, promotion, transfer, demotion, disciplining, resignation, discharge, dismissal or compensation of a public officer or employee, or prospective public officer or employee…”  That’s W.Va. Code 6-9A-4 (b)(2)(A).

But, the law does not mandate an executive session for such discussions. W.Va. Code 6-9A-4(a) says that governing boards “may” — not shall or must — got into executive session if the topic falls under one of the exceptions to the general rule mandating open meetings.

As the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press guide to West Virginia’s open meetings law states a “majority vote is required to invoke the provisions permitting executive sessions.”

Do you think any of the WVU Board of Governors members will oppose an executive session?

If you think they should, their names are all listed above, or on this WVU Web site.  The site doesn’t list a telephone or e-mail contact for any of the board members, but does list this e-mail address where questions and comments can be sent to the secretary to the board.

It’s also interesting to note that executive sessions in these situations are prohibited if the  employee or prospective employee requests an open meeting.  Maybe the two candidates to run WVU will show their commitment to open government by invoking this section of the law.