Monday, December 17, 2018

Governor Bevin's invitation-only education symposium poses open meeting questions

By Amye Bensenhaver
for the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center

The Council on Postsecondary Education, in partnership with Gov. Matt Bevin, recently announced an invitation-only symposium at the Louisville Marriott East on Tuesday (Dec. 18). Bevin will make opening remarks at 9 a.m., after a networking breakfast, and the keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, will discuss “The Role of Postsecondary Education in the 21st Century.”
At 10:45, invitees will “break out into one of four sessions to allow for opportunities to weigh in, provide feedback, and further discuss strategies that Kentucky’s postsecondary education institutions may be able to implement.” At noon, the invitees will attend a luncheon emceed by council President Aaron Thompson, and the governor will again address the assembly.
In response to inquiries from a faculty member whose request to attend was denied, the Council on Postsecondary Education advised that “due to the size of the venue and the cost to put on the event and provide meals for the invitees, the invitation was limited to each public university president, board members, and up to two staff members chosen by the president.” President Crow’s comments, and the governor’s luncheon address, will be livestreamed.
Further inquiries confirm that the council does not view the symposium, at which a quorum of the members of the governing boards of several public agencies, including the council, will be present as “a formal meeting of the CPE . . . due to the event’s general content and structure.” 

Nevertheless, the council indicates it will provide proper notice to fulfill its open meetings obligations and that the media will be admitted. Faculty, students, and the general public will be excluded.
The event raises concerns about open meetings compliance. The law mandates that all meetings of a quorum of the members of a public agency at which public business is discussed and/or action is taken must be open to the public. The meeting need not be “formal,” since that term is broadly defined as “all gatherings,” including “informational or casual” gatherings, regardless of where they are held.  
The attorney general has recognized that a quorum of the members of an agency can attend a conference or symposium at the invitation of an outside sponsor without violating the open meetings law as long as the members listen and learn but do not discuss the business of the agency they serve. 
Given the presence of a quorum of the members of several public university boards and the council, the focus of the symposium, and the time allocated for participants to discuss “strategies that Kentucky’s postsecondary education institution may be able to implement,” the closed meeting may trigger the requirements of the open meetings law. 
If, in fact, the symposium is subject to the open meetings law, the decision to admit the media but exclude faculty members, students, and the public raises the issue of selective admission. A public meeting that is open to one must be open to all.  
Amye Bensenhaver, a graduate of the University of Kentucky Law School, is a retired assistant attorney general who specialized in Open Records and Open Meetings appeals. 

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