Many members of TVARS have asked the TVARS board to open its meetings. I agree. I proposed this at the last quarterly board meeting, but it was not approved. See my proposal here. The board’s governance policy does not currently provide for open meetings. See the complete governance policy here. The next quarterly board meeting will be this Friday, March 15, and it will be closed.
The board’s governance policy contains a section entitled “Transparency” (Section #5) which begins: “The Rules and Regulations do not require public access to meetings; however, the Board embraces the governance principles of transparency and accountability.” I believe one might reasonably ask: If the board embraces transparency and accountability, why doesn’t the board provide for public access to its meetings in its governance policy? The Rules and Regulations do not require a lot of things that have been implemented in various board policies.
The transparency section of the board's governance policy goes on to say that “a transcript of Board meetings shall be made available upon request.” The TVARS board has placed the burden on each member of the system to request a transcript for a particular meeting. It requires patience and perseverance because it generally takes the board at least three months to make each transcript available. The transcripts are made available only in paper form, and are physically mailed. They are not provided electronically. They are not posted on the TVARS website. Additionally, written transcripts can be difficult to understand. The transcriber does not always capture the punctuation correctly, and there are no vocal tones to help one understand the intended meaning.
The section of the board's governance policy on meeting agendas (Section #6) does state that the board has discretion to allow someone to come to speak to it, but this clearly does not provide for open meetings. Part of Section #6 states:
Any TVARS stakeholder may request to participate in an upcoming Board meeting. The Board shall review each request on a case-by-case basis and determine, in its sole discretion, whether to grant such request. Non-TVARS stakeholders also may request to participate in an upcoming Board meeting. The Board shall review each request on a case-by-case basis and determine, in its sole discretion, whether to grant such request. If any request to participate in an upcoming Board meeting is granted, the Board shall place such person(s) or group on the Board meeting agenda for that specific meeting.
Even if the board grants someone permission to address it, they will be allowed to come only at one particular time. It will not be during the official board meeting when the board votes on matters before it. As of now, the TVARS board has applied this part of Section #6 only once, and I do not believe anyone can say that this application has increased the openness of the TVARS board to the membership.
With a policy of open meetings, the membership would be free to observe all official meetings from beginning to end. They would be able to observe every vote taken by the board. This is a requirement of sunshine laws. Sunshine laws require that meetings of entities with the authority to create binding laws be made available for public observation. The TVARS board has the authority to create binding rules which have a direct impact on the financial well-being of our members. Sunshine laws also require meetings to be held with sufficient advance notice and at times and places that are convenient and accessible to the public. Exceptions are to be made for confidential matters, but these are expected to be kept to a minimum.