UVI trustees OK resolutions discussed in controversial closed meetings

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ST. THOMAS - The University of Virgin Islands Board of Trustees met Friday afternoon hoping to put to rest controversy about a meeting it conducted last month without giving any public notice.

All but one board member voted to approve the resolutions discussed in an Oct. 26 meeting and a subsequent meeting on Nov. 11 that carried over discussions from the Oct. 26 meeting.

The Nov. 11 meeting appeared to be unlawful based on the territory's Open Meetings law because the board reconvened on Veteran's Day - a federal and local holiday - and acted to authorize negotiations into a five-year contract renewal with UVI President David Hall.

The board did not publicly announce the date and time of the Nov. 11 meeting - as required by the territory's open meetings law - and met in executive session as a continuation of the executive session that went into recess on Oct. 26.

On Oct. 26 on St. Croix, the board announced that it was going into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, legal matters, issues of contracts and other sensitive matters but recessed after more than four hours - about 4 p.m. - without having completed all of its scheduled business.

Board Chairman Alex Moorhead said at that time that the executive session would reconvene at a later date depending on the availability of board members, but he did not announce a date or time for the continued session.

During the Nov. 11 meeting, the board authorized Moorhead to negotiate and execute an agreement with Hall for the position of president from Aug. 1, 2014, to July 31, 2019, according to a press release the board issued on Nov. 15 - four days after the members met.

UVI spokeswoman Nanyamka Farrelly previously said the board did not violate the open meetings law, because the entire Nov. 11 meeting was an executive session and the law does not require government agencies to invite the public to closed meetings.

The Virgin Islands Code Title 1 Chapter 15 Section 254 does exempt personnel matters from business to be discussed in open sessions.

However, it also states: "Each agency shall maintain an up-to-date schedule of the meetings which are to be held by it or any subdivision thereof, which schedule shall indicate whether the meeting, or portion thereof, will be open or closed to the public and if closed the reason therefor. The schedule shall be available for public inspection during all the regular working hours of said agency."

The law also requires that in the case of meetings closed to the public, the agency must "provide the public with public announcement of the date, place and subject matter of the meeting at the earliest practicable opportunity."

Additionally, if an agency takes an action in a closed meeting - such as voting whether to enter into contract negotiations - a copy of the vote on that action "must be made available to the public, excluding any information exempted from public disclosure."

Under the open meetings law, the documentation of a vote in a closed meeting must include:

- The names of all agency members present at the time of the vote.

- A description of the matter on which the vote was taken.

- A record of each member's vote.

Actions undertaken during meetings that do not meet these requirements are not valid, the code states.

On Friday, the UVI board provided all of the above information, though Farrelly said that she could not disclose the name of the board member that abstained his or her vote until a written request was made, despite an email requesting that same information.

The vote was held in confidence during an executive session.

However, the votes taken regarding the approval of negotiations between Moorhead and Hall for a new contract were provided in document form.

Board members Moorhead, Gwendolyn Adams-Norton, Carol Fulp, Jennifer Nugent-Hill, Henry Smock, Luz Suarez-Highfield, Edward Thomas, Theresa Turner and the Rev. Wesley Williams all gave approval to Moorhead to begin negotiations with Hall on his new contract.

Board members Oswin Sewer Sr., Patricia Steele, Yvonne Thraen and Sinclair Wilkinson all voted no.

Board members Joshua Edwards, Donna Frett-Gregory and Jacqueline Sprauve abstained, and Hall was absent.

The negotiations now are expected to begin, Farrelly said, and it is not known when Moorhead and Hall will finish.

Moorhead has the ability to close the negotiations and finalize Hall's contract without the board's approval, Farrelly said.

Farrelly was uncertain it would be standard for the chairman and president to finalize the contract without the board's approval.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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