How should invoices for payment be reflected on county board agenda?
By Howard E. Seufer, Jr.
Q. Our school board regularly approves invoices for payment. How should we reflect this on the agenda that is made public prior to our meetings, and how should the action we take on the invoices appear in the minutes of our meetings? How much detail is required?
A. Under West Virginia’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act, county boards of education must give advance notice to the public and news media of the time, place and agenda of each regular meeting. The purpose is to provide public access to information.
The Legislature established an Open Meetings Advisory Committee to issue, upon request of all governing bodies and their members, advisory opinions interpreting the Act. The interpretations are published so that all public bodies can see and learn from the advice.
In response to the very question you pose, the Committee issued an advisory opinion on December 6, 2012. To summarize the Committee’s advice: For purposes of approving invoices, an agenda item reading “Approve Invoices” or “Payment of Bills” is permissible. There is no requirement that the agenda list each invoice and the amount being considered. However, to ensure public access to information, a county board of education that uses the general agenda items and does not list on the agenda all payments being considered must either (1) make available for public review at least two business days before the meeting (not counting the day of the meeting) a list of all invoices being considered, showing the name of each vendor and the amount owed to each (the school board must wait until the next meeting to consider and approve any invoice not included on the list); or (2) make available at the school board’s office for public review during public office hours at least two business days before the meeting (not counting the day of the meeting) all invoices being considered. The school board may not add invoices to the stack right before the meeting.
In either case, the county board must state on its agenda under the agenda item “Approve Invoices” or “Payment of Bills” that a list of the invoices, or the invoices themselves, are available for review. The same rule applies to school boards that list the names of vendors on their agenda, but do not include the amount being considered for payment.
In its minutes, the board of education may indicate that there was a motion to approve invoices and that it passed. If the minutes do not record the name and amount of every invoice approved, school boards should attach to the minutes a list of the invoices approved, and the amount of each.
All school boards are well advised to follow the Open Governmental Meetings Committee’s advice. The full advisory opinion is available on line at: http://www.ethics.wv.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF%20Open%20Meeting%20Opinions/OMAO%202012-04.pdf.
Howard E. Seufer Jr., is a partner at Bowles Rice, LLP, and is the West Virginia School Board Association’s counsel, a position he has held since 1986.