Changes proposed to Open Meetings Act

Madina Seytmuradova and Priyanka Sharma

Staff Writers

A bill that could make board of trustees’ meetings concerning high-level hiring process at Alabama public universities a private affair was brought to the state Senate floor last week by Gerald Dial.

Sen. Dial also serves as the president pro tempore on Troy University’s board of trustees.

The bill seeks to extend a limited exemption for all higher education institutions in the state from the Alabama Open Meetings Act.

Enacted in 2005, the act states that all governmental bodies’ processes must be open to the public during meetings.

It specifically prohibits conduct of “serial meetings,” certain impromptu meetings by government agencies’ members to deliberate the matters to be voted on before coming to board meetings.

The current Open Meetings Act allows board members to request reporters to leave the room while discussing private matters of the candidates.

However, candidates may not want to be known to the public at all until the final decision is made, said Ray White, Troy University’s vice chancellor for human resources.

“Once it becomes public, then the current employer may know that they are out shopping for jobs and it may affect keeping their existing job, so it goes back to the personal nature of the decision,” White said.

The University of Alabama and Auburn University were granted a provision from the act last year that enables them to hold serial meetings to discuss top hiring business.

If Dial’s bill passes the Legislature, all universities and colleges will be able to hold serial meetings to discuss candidates outside the legal quorum.

This, Dial said in an interview with the Anniston Star, will promote anonymity of the candidates and, consequently, fairness and efficiency of the hiring process as more candidate will apply without fear of exposure.

White, who said he is supportive of the Open Meetings Act, said that many times when he is contacted by people looking for a job, a common question they ask is, “Will my name be kept private?”

“But if I don’t make it to the finalists, I don’t even want to send out my application because I value my current job,” White said that potential applicants often say, not wanting their current employers to know.

“I think it’s especially important in America where we believe in freedom of information and so forth,” White said. “But there’s limit to everything, and that limit, where I would draw that fence is when we’re dealing with someone’s personal life.”

The Tropolitan tried to reach Dial and several other Troy Board of Trustees members for comments, but they were unavailable to make a statement.

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