Court says board’s straw vote in secret session did not violate Sunshine Act
PENNSYLVANIA — The Sunshine Act does not prohibit a local school board from taking a straw vote in a private executive session, the Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh ruled in late May.
The Morning Call of Allentown alleged that the Southern Lehigh School Board violated the Sunshine Act when it voted on superintendent candidates during a February 1992 executive session. The board selected three of five candidates as finalists during the meeting.
The vote was “really nothing more than a further rating and ranking of these non- finalists,” the appellate court said in upholding a 1992 trial court ruling by the Common Pleas Court in Allentown.
The appellate court distinguished the straw vote, which narrowed the candidate pool, from an official action committing the agency to a course of conduct. The court said, however, that under the Sunshine Act the school board’s final vote to hire a specific person must be public.
The court ruled that the board’s deliberations required confidentiality in order to attract qualified candidates who were employed by other school districts.
(Morning Call v. Board of School Directors; Media Counsel: Malcolm Gross, Allentown)