If it hadn’t have been for an article in The Daily News, people in Hitchcock wouldn’t have known that the school board is going to talk about how to fill the principal’s position at the high school.
They wouldn’t have known that one of the proposals is to have the superintendent, Barbara Derrick, fill both posts until a principal is hired.
That lack of information is a problem because the Texas Open Meetings Act requires that the public be informed.
Here’s how the Attorney General’s Office summarizes the law:
“A governmental body must give the public advance notice of the subjects it will consider in an open meeting or a closed executive session. … The notice must be sufficient to apprise the general public of the subjects to be considered during the meeting.”
That summary is in the “Open Meetings Handbook.” Under the law, elected officials, including school board members, are required to undergo training on that law.
The excuse “the lawyer said it was OK” is no longer allowed.
In this case, the school district posted a vague notice about what it intended to discuss at Tuesday’s special meeting. You’d have to be a psychic to read it and conclude that discussion is going to be about how to fill the vacant principal’s position.
One of the most famous cases involving open governance laws in Texas is Cox Enterprises v. Board of Trustees.
The Austin school board posted a vague agenda item letting the public know that it was going to discuss “personnel.”
What it actually planned to do was hire a new superintendent.
The Texas Supreme Court held that the greater public interest, the more specific the notice must be. If you are going to hire a janitor or a cafeteria worker, you don’t need as specific a notice as you would for hiring a superintendent or a football coach — or a high school principal.
The public in the Hitchcock school district deserved better in this case.
Incidentally, The Daily News keeps talking about these open governance laws, not to embarrass local officials, but because they protect a fundamental right of citizens to know what their representatives are talking about.
The role of the high school principal is important in a community such as Hitchcock.
If people in the community want to know how that job is going to be filled, they have a right to hear the discussion. They have a right to hear how their elected representatives are, in fact, representing them.
At a glance
WHAT: Hitchcock school board
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: 7801 Neville Road, in Hitchcock