Green River Star -

Our View: Committee meetings should open

 


The importance of Wyoming’s public meetings laws cannot be understated.

Those laws allow every Wyoming resident the right to attend and learn about how their government works. They allow residents the opportunity to learn about what’s happening in their towns, school districts, public hospitals – even their local water and sewer systems.

When we say we think a board is acting against the spirit of those laws, it’s not something we do lightly, and we believe the board of trustees for Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County are acting against those laws. The board, by creating a number of sub committees and hosting closed meetings by using the argument they don’t meet the requirements of having a quorum, is acting against the spirit of those access laws.

We believe the key to the issue is within the definitions listed for the open meetings act. According to 16-4-402 (II), an agency as any “authority, bureau, board, commission, committee, or subagency of the state, a county, a municipality or other political subdivision which is created by or pursuant to the Wyoming constitution, statute or ordinance.” What’s important is that definition covers the type of board the trustees at MHSC make up. They are a board created through state ordinance by the Sweetwater County Commissioners.

The same goes for any subcommittee created by MHSC’s board or any other board for that matter. They’re covered in the law specifically through the inclusion of the word “subagency.” A finance committee, for example, cannot close its meetings to anyone because only a few board members sit on the board. With each new board or committee created, a new quorum consisting of that group’s members is also created. We actually dealt with this issue several years ago, when the county commissioners created a blue ribbon committee in 2007 to review the county’s proposed unified development code. We were initially barred from attending those meetings and were able to gain access with the help of the Wyoming Press Association using that same language.

We realize hospital boards, including the one at MHSC, may end up discussing some information related to specific patients protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, often referred to as HIPAA. They can close portions of meetings to discuss specific pieces of information in executive session, but cannot close an entire meeting.

Those meetings should be open, and we think the law supports that thought.

 

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