School meetings case to be argued before Wyoming high court

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday over whether the school district in Sheridan legally discussed a proposed multipurpose center behind closed doors.

The up to $48 million building would improve Sheridan High School's athletics facilities while also serving as a community center. It has yet to be decided whether the facility will be built.

The Sheridan Press sued last year after Sheridan County School District No. 2 officials and school board members said in interviews with the newspaper that they discussed the facility in executive session. The newspaper said that at least part of those discussions should have occurred in public.

A district court judge who privately reviewed more than a year's worth of minutes of school board executive sessions ruled that those meetings were held properly.

The newspaper appealed, noting that the judge didn't explain why the meetings were legitimate. Meanwhile, the minutes remained sealed from review by the public, newspaper and its attorney.

"The lower court must provide a sufficient explanation of its ruling to make it possible for an aggrieved party to determine whether to appeal, and for an appellate court to have meaningful review," attorney Bruce Moats wrote in the newspaper's supreme court brief.

An attorney for the school district countered that burden of proof that an executive session was held illegitimately lay with whoever makes such a claim.

The Sheridan Press' real complaint is the judge didn't identify the contents of the minutes, attorney Kendal Hoopes wrote in the school district's brief. "If the court were to disclose the specific contents of the executive session in making its decision, there would be no further reason for the lawsuit," Hoopes wrote.

What the school board discussed when meetings about the multipurpose building took place remains publicly unknown. The school district offered four general reasons why, under Wyoming's open meetings law, executive sessions held by the school board between October 2012 and February 2014 were justified.

Those reasons included discussion of personnel matters, litigation involving or potentially involving the school district, buying or selling real estate, and information classified by law as confidential, according to the district's brief.

The district court judge privately reviewed minutes of the executive sessions held over the 14-month period at the request of both sides in the case.

If the closed-door discussions involved real estate for the multipurpose center, they were legally permissible only if they were likely to cause an increase in price for land for the facility, Moats argued in his brief.

The law doesn't support such an argument, Hoopes countered in his brief.

"Surely the legislature did not intend for public entities to be required to procure appraisals, market analysis, and other information pertinent to the value of property being considered before it could meet in executive session to consider the property," he wrote.

Oral arguments for all cases to be heard Wednesday are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.


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