CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will soon release the names of dozens of volunteers chosen to serve on 22 task forces, advising district leaders on topics ranging from public trust to technology.

The task force meetings, which will start in late January, will be closed to the public. Superintendent Heath Morrison says that private meetings will allow more effective work and that town hall meetings and surveys will allow plenty of input from those who aren t serving on panels.

But two experts from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government say banning the public from task force meetings would violate the N.C. Open Meetings Law.

It seems clear to me that the types of activities the task forces will engage in are within the scope of the law requiring public meetings, Frayda Bluestein, professor of public law and government, emailed after viewing the CMS web page on the task forces.

Norma Houston, a lecturer on public law and government, agreed.

CMS attorney George Battle III contends that the task forces are exempt because they were created by the superintendent, rather than the school board.

Clearly the board, which is the governing body for CMS, neither delegated any authority to these task forces nor did it appoint or otherwise empower them to act on behalf of CMS, Battle wrote, adding that the panels are not authorized to carry out duties on behalf of Morrison.

I fail to see how these task forces are public bodies as defined when they have not been empowered or authorized to carry out any public duties by the board, which is the only entity which can grant that power, either directly or by delegation, Battle concluded.

Hundreds volunteer

Morrison announced the creation of 22 task forces in late November, saying they ll be an important source of ideas and advice as he and the school board revise the strategic plan for CMS in 2013. Each panel is led by a CMS staffer and at least one community volunteer, some of whom are former CMS employees or school board members.

Morrison says the district has gotten hundreds of requests to serve.

I am thankful for your interest, he said in a note on the task force web site, but we have more requests than we have task force seats to fill.

Morrison and the board plan to hold a series of town hall meetings in 2013 that will allow the public to meet with task force members and air their questions or comments.

CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said Thursday the members have been chosen but the names won t be released until January, after board members review the list and staff returns from the holiday break.

Morrison said he met with task force leaders earlier this week. Those leaders, including those who don t work for CMS, said they thought they could work better if their regular meetings were closed to the public, Morrison said.

Public or private?

State law says the open meeting requirement extends to any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities (or) school administrative units that is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.

CMS has had several citizen advisory boards, including an equity committee and several groups related to bonds and construction, that were created by the board and held public meetings.

In 2005, business and foundation leaders created their own task force to craft plans for CMS reform. That group, supported by corporate donations and led by the Foundation for the Carolinas, met privately before presenting a public list of recommendations.

Bluestein said she doesn t believe that task forces set up by the superintendent fall into the private category that would be exempt from open meetings law.

The superintendent ... is a public employee and would, I think, be presumed to be acting in his capacity on behalf of the school, rather than as a personal effort, she said after seeing Battle s explanation. Assuming the BOE doesn t object to this effort, it seems to me that a court would find it to be an effort by CMS rather than by the superintendent as an individual.

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