After promising a new era of transparency, Mt. Diablo school board trustees last week conducted legally questionable closed meetings as part of their vetting of a new superintendent.
We understand the need to verify that San Diego Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer is everything she claims to be. And we applaud that the board wants to be conscientious about checking her out.
But the way they went about it was absurd. It not only stepped over the legal line set by the state open-meeting law, it was foolish and renewed questions about the trustees' claims of openness.
Ironically, trustees are seeking new leaders after firing their last superintendent and legal counsel in part because of their penchants for secrecy, for running the district as if it were their own fiefdom.
Last week, after announcing Meyer was the finalist for the job, four of the five trustees went to San Diego to meet with what they called "stakeholders." According to board President Cheryl Hansen, they held seven sequential closed-door meetings with groups such as parents, teachers and administrators. She refuses to name the participants.
The purported purpose was to verify whether Meyer's representations were true. Hansen says secrecy was essential to ensure candid comment.
But the people they met with were selected by Meyer and, in groups of four to eight people per meeting, it's unlikely they would say anything disparaging.
There's a bigger problem. The open-meeting law does not permit such meetings.
Interim District Counsel Jayne Williams conflates two sections of the law to claim that the meetings were permissible. The district board is permitted to go out of town to interview members of the public as part of its review of a candidate for superintendent. And the board may also meet in closed session to discuss hiring of personnel.
But that doesn't mean that the board may meet with the public in closed session to discuss hiring. And certainly not with interest groups. It doesn't matter whether the meeting is in Concord or in San Diego, it's not permitted under the law.
If such meetings were allowed, any group could privately lobby the collective board on personnel decisions.
That interpretation turns the open-meeting law on its head.
In this case, it gets worse. Before holding the closed sessions at a San Diego school, the Mt. Diablo board was required, as with any of its meetings, to provide a public comment period. But school police there shooed away a member of the public who wanted to speak, telling her it was a private meeting.
This is not the transparency we were promised. Quite the opposite.