Questions over public access to meetings held recently by two local governing boards were answered two different ways. Those answers, and their consequences, illustrate the difference between taking the high road and getting mired in the gray area of the Wyoming Open Meetings Law.
The first meeting took place in September when the Powell Valley Healthcare board met to interview two candidates for chief executive officer for the organization. While Powell Valley Healthcare is a private nonprofit organization, much of its board membership consists of the Powell Hospital District board, elected by residents in the district.
Even so, that meeting normally could have been exempted from public purview under the Wyoming Open Meetings law, which allows governing boards to meet in secret when considering personnel issues.
However, Board President Dr. Mark Wurzel noted there was a catch that time, because the hospital chief executive officer is not actually employed by Powell Valley Healthcare. Instead, the CEO is an employee of Brim Healthcare — now HealthTech —which is contracted to provide management for Powell Valley Healthcare.
Because of that technicality, the board chose to keep the interviews open to the media, and the public got an early glimpse of the two candidates vying for the position at the time.
A representative of Brim attended the meeting and voiced no disagreement with the decision.
The other meeting took place last week at Northwest College.
The meeting was called by a team from the Higher Learning Commission, an independent corporation reviewing the college's application and self study for accreditation.
To his credit, Board President Jim Vogt advised media representatives of a meeting between the board and an accreditation team from the Higher Learning Commission on Nov. 15.
But before the meeting began, the commission team leader closed it to the public and the media, choosing instead to meet behind closed doors.
Subsequent inquiries indicate closure of the meeting likely was in violation of the Wyoming Open Meeting Laws, though it does fall into a gray area of the law.
The situation in both cases was similar: a meeting called by another organization, but which included a quorum of an elected board.
The response to the similar scenarios was quite different, however, leading to different public perceptions as well.
When explaining the unique circumstances to the Powell Valley Healthcare board in September, Wurzel said board leaders had chosen to take the high road.
It is unfortunate that the NWC board and the HLC commission team didn't come to the same conclusion.