|Open meetings law violated by Gaston County School Board |
An attorney who specializes in open government laws has claimed that Gaston County’s public school board broke North Carolina open meetings law at its most recent meeting. School board members have closed their monthly meetings held at the school district’s central office in Gastonia to the public for more than a year, citing COVID-19 safety precautions. But as the use of vaccines pushes COVID-19 metrics downward, more school board members have attended the meetings in person, while the public either watches from home or waits outside of the school board’s chambers for their turn to speak. However, attorneys who specialize in government transparency say boards who have welcomed all of their members back in-person, but not the public are breaking, state open meetings law. All nine Gaston County School Board members have attended a meeting in-person on at least two occasions this year. North Carolina’s state of emergency indicates streaming can be the sole viewing option for public meetings, so long as at least one member of the public body attends the meeting virtually. “The requirement that at least one member is remote will go some distance to assure that remote participation by the public isn’t sidelined, intentionally or unintentionally,” Beth Soja, an attorney with Stevens Martin Vaughn and Tydach law firm in Raleigh, said. “If all members of a public body are present in person, that is simply a regular, official meeting under the ‘regular’ open meetings law, members of the public must be allowed to attend in person,” said Soja, whose firm represents the North Carolina Press Association.