Wyoming justices side with newspaper in public meetings case



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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Supreme Court sided Thursday with The Sheridan Press in the newspaper's effort to report on planning for a multipurpose center, ruling the Sheridan school board must release the minutes of closed-door meetings in which it discussed the facility.

The minutes have to be released to the public because they are vague and reveal little, including whether the executive sessions were justified under Wyoming law, the court ruled.

"The minutes are simply insufficiently descriptive to allow this court to conclude that they were properly withheld from disclosure or that the board properly convened executive sessions to have the discussion," the justices wrote.

The ruling makes clear that public boards in Wyoming need to be able to justify any decision to discuss matters behind closed doors, said Bruce Moats, the attorney for the newspaper in the case.

"The governing body can't rely on its own determination that it's an appropriate executive session. They must be able to justify it under the law," Moats said.

School district officials referred comment to their attorney, Kendal Hoopes, who didn't immediately return a phone message.

The proposed building costing up to $48 million would serve as a community center and contain athletics facilities for Sheridan High School.

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 sued last year to obtain access to the minutes of 19 executive sessions between October 2012 and February 2014.

Both sides in the case agreed to have a district court judge review the minutes without disclosing them to the public. After doing so, the judge sided with the school district, prompting the newspaper to appeal.

The supreme court also reviewed the meeting minutes without releasing them but came to a different conclusion.

The minutes of two meetings in 2012 and 2013 state that the school board examined potential sites near or at the high school and was concerned that publicity regarding consideration of those sites could cause the price of their acquisition to increase, the justices wrote.

However, the minutes don't describe in detail any discussions about the site selection process, which under the law, would be allowed in executive session.

"Under these circumstances, we conclude the minutes themselves are not confidential because without more information about the sites, there is no likelihood their disclosure may likely cause an increase in price," the justices wrote.

The supreme court told the district court judge to order the release of the minutes of the executive sessions in which the board discussed real estate and potential sites for the multipurpose center.

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Mead Gruver

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