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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Reaction to records request a bit baffling

Posted Monday, September 10, 2012, at 1:48 PM

The reaction by some that White River Valley School Corporation has spent more than $9,400 to date complying to a series of Public Records requests that have been lawfully submitted under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act by the Save Our Schools (SOS) organization is a bit baffling.

Public records requests are legal and necessary to ensure that public agencies, like school boards, are conducting the public's business as they should ---- within the law and transparent.

It bothers me that some in our communities have vilified the SOS group's members for making the requests in the first place.

The SOS members are not the bad guys here.

They are asking for information that is available to them under Indiana law.

True, records requests do cost money ---- mainly for attorney fees ---- especially when there is the potential that some of the records may contain legally confidential or personnel information. But that is why those sections of the records can be easily redacted and eliminated from what is released.

The records requests are being handled on behalf of the school corporation by WRV's special school attorney, Susan Traynor Chastain, of the Indianapolis law firm of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP.

WRV Superintendent Layton Wall says the attorney is being paid "about $200 an hour" for her services.

Hiring outside legal counsel was a school administration/board decision. It was an option.

The school board already employees the Rowe Law Firm from Linton to handle routine board/administration business.

As of last Thursday night, WRV School Board President Jason Davidson announced that the cost was $9,487.75.

The figure will continue to rise as the board gathers and the lawyer reviews more requested documents.

The public's right to know about the operation of its representative government agencies must be preserved and not scoffed at, ridiculed or labeled as a means to hinder the agency from doing the job they were elected to do.

We can debate the motives of the SOS members for making the records requests in June, but that doesn't change the law.

The Indiana Access to Public Records Act states, "A fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government is that government is the servant of the people and not their master. Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. Providing persons with the information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officials and employees, whose duty it is to provide the information."

That means the school board members work for the people who hired them by voting them into office.

According to the Indiana statute [IC 5-14-3] "Public Record" is defined as "any writing, paper, report, study, map, photograph, book, card, tape recording, or other material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency and which is generated on paper, paper substitutes, photographic media, chemically based media, magnetic or machine readable media, electronically stored data, or any other material, regardless of form or characteristics. This is, unless the document is exempted by court order or the law."

Among the requested documents, dating back to 2009 in some cases, which have to do with the school board's and administration's actions concerning a possible elementary school merger/building plan for Lyons and Worthington are:

* All records of communication between Wall and school board members about MGT of America and the feasibility study. This includes emails, WRV School Corporation-owned cell phone text messages, faxes, and other forms of written communication from March 1, 2010 through June 6, 2012.

* All emails from the corporation-owned email accounts of Wall.

* A list of WRV School Corporation expenditures related to: Wall, Curriculum Director Michael Langevin, and WRV school board members for the time period March 1, 2010 through June 13, 2012.

A statement of purpose of why the records are being request is not required.

Any person may request public records in Indiana.

So, the bottom line is the long list of records needs to be complied with in full as soon as possible. The requested records will probably be hundreds, even thousands of pages in volume, but that doesn't change the law.

The school has to comply with the request, even if it costs residents hard-earned tax dollars.

If you don't like that, contact your state lawmakers and ask for the law to be changed.

Nick is assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at 847-4487 or 1-800-947-4487 or by e-mail at schneider.nick@gmail.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @GCDWSchneider .


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Ditto Johnpaulcoleman.

Poor motives can abuse good laws.

There are laws to protect people who are injured through no fault of their own. As a society we want to protect people who are hurt and face medical bills and loss of wages when they are hurt by others. However we still vilify those that believe that spilling some hot coffee on themselves entitles them to millions of dollars.

I recently had an issue with my mortgage company due to a payment that was 'lost'. I began investigating my rights under the very good RESPA law designed to protect borrowers. Through my investigations, I discovered a series of near 'how to' manuals on the internet on how to use the law to bury your lender in requests that in some cases even led those who were at fault for failing to make payments to gain relief from their mortgage companies. While it is sad that some have fallen on hard economic times, not everyone is a victim of predetory lending and those that abuse the system for their own benefit only harm the rest of us.

There are times when public oversite of government is essential. There is no problem with the law, however it can be misused. Although I have no direct connection with WRV, through following recent news, it seems that this inquiry is not driven by a rational desire to investigate an issue, but is driven by an emotional desire to fish for any facts that may support their cause. This then results in costs that frankly are unnecessary.

-- Posted by RB on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 10:35 AM

The initial (9) records requests were simple, straight forward, specific and clear. They were motivated by the fact that we held several meetings this past year with various board members and Superindendant Wall where we were given various information that contradicted eachother. Rather than enter into a public battle of name calling and pitting board member against board member against Superintendant...we sought to obtain the actual records to decern for ourselves what the information truely is.

The original (9) records were denied through the use of various terms (provided to the school under the same law) such as "not reasonably particular". There were several other reasons cited but we clearly felt that none of them really applied as the schools attorney was using them. The School nor their attorney followed up or elaborated to give us any direction as to how we needed to modify or redefine our requests which is normally done to demonstrate a reasonable "good faith" effort by a public agency. As such, we were left with little choice but to expand each request in order to make them more particular and specific. This resulted in the 28 records requests that followed.

It is important to remember that these public records are an account of what happened and not what someone created after the fact. We all should know what actually happened regardless of the content. The only thing that is disheartening in this whole thing is that SOS was vilified and met with personal attacks even before the records were requested.

I have come to know several of the board members personally and they are very honorable and decent men that I have a lot of respect for and I know that all members of SOS feel the same.

-- Posted by LCWilhoite on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 5:02 PM

John

Anyone in there right mind wouldn't refuse that offer. Let's see how this turns out.

-- Posted by Matt W Hockman on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 5:33 PM

"we held several meetings this past year with various board members and Superindendant Wall where we were given various information that contradicted eachother."

We did all of that and more.

Since we already did what you suggest...Make the check out to WRV School Corp!

-- Posted by LCWilhoite on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 5:53 PM

and if there is nothing to hide and nothing was done that shouldn't have been, then the board has no reason to not simply COMPLY!!! otherwise the appearance of being dishonest becomes apparent.

-- Posted by sunshine46 on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 8:46 PM

And because everything everyone says is always the truth? It's a Wikipedia world....get real!

-- Posted by Ice Breaker on Tue, Sep 11, 2012, at 10:16 PM

Thank you Nick Schneider for your explanation of the definitions in the Public Access Law. Well done.

I for one appreciate our state's belief system that supports: "A fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government is that government is the servant of the people and not their master". Even if it gets difficult and messy.

-- Posted by Center Citizen on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 8:35 AM

There are no records requests issued to a private company.

But it is interresting all of this work has been apparently going on about a private company and a school totalling up invoices and that you (a private citizen) apparently have detailed knowledge of this all yet the group that has specifically requested that information through the propper legal channels has not received anything or even been told about it.

That same private citizen is attempting to broker negotiations on behalf of a school, trying to bribe a private group to not follow what the law has provided for its citizens, go through a private companies file cabinet (I assume you have permission for that too)...All because a group has been given contradictory information by its school's officials so it followed the law to obtain public owned information in order to find out the truth.

You're right, it has gotten pretty ridiculous!

-- Posted by LCWilhoite on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 8:39 AM

I understand if this is just one of your examples but why is your focus on Graves Plumbing? Nick didn't even mention that RR in his blog. I understand he's on the board and a business owner but I think there is a bigger picture here and it's all about holding people accountable for their actions and sometimes it takes an element of proof to validate that....whether that person be a business owner, school board member, superintendent or whoever....If you want to donate money, great, otherwise submit your own RR and research your own element of proof.

-- Posted by Ice Breaker on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 12:25 PM

You call it "hullabaluuuuuu" and I think others are speculating dishonesty or fluff. Just because someone says it doesn't make it true which is why the law of RR is in place, to hold the education system accountable. If everything is on the up and up then there should be nothing to worry about....right. If the money is truly an issue, donate your money toward the lawyer fees. Speaking of, was Rowe consulted on this process? Why wasn't he used?

-- Posted by Ice Breaker on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 1:26 PM

Mr. Coleman,

Many people have kept quiet and watched your comments escalate. What is your personal interest in this, other than being a tax payer? You have done nothing more than stir the pot. You seem to have more in this than just a natural curiousity. Are you concerned your name will come up in the requests? Please share with us. We all want to hear more of what you have to say. It's so intriguing, never repetative, and always sooooo interesting. Never hulabaluuuuuuuuu...

Now that I have all that out of the way... Im going to say what most readers are thinking... Drone drone drone! Blah blah blah! We get it! You are upset, now stick a sock in it and call your congress people! Like the law or not, it exists. SOS acted within the law. Step off the cross, build a bridge, and get over it!!!!!!!!!

-- Posted by taximom on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 9:29 PM

But John, your school of thought is that we should rely on the elected officials and the supt. that they hired, right? So why do they need you for this? You don't work for them, you don't have children attending WRV.

But you volunteer to be their knight in shining armor AND donate money to stop the RR? Just seems like something doesn't add up!

I'm an average American... surely I'm not the only one who thinks your over the top involvement or wanna-be involvement doesn't ring true. Then again, maybe you are just the kindest, gentlest soul who loses many nights' sleep worrying about the predicament that WRV is in.... and maybe you're the tooth fairy!

Either way, it doesn't matter. You can continue to stir the pot, or you can try something more positive. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. And I don't think your $5000 offer qualifies as positive, given that it was dripping with sarcasm. Take a different, less grumpy/seathing approach, and you might find you'll get somewhere!

-- Posted by taximom on Wed, Sep 12, 2012, at 11:54 PM

Taximom - you have hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

-- Posted by majsg10 on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 7:30 AM

Personally I wholeheartly agree with each and every statement johnpaulcoleman has made and keep wondering where common sense has gone in our society.

I'm just staying out of the arguement because I have no direct linkage to WRV and frankly I have better things to do than watch their citizens pit themselves against one another...like that's going to help anyone...students included!

But heck, I've only got 2 Master's degrees, maybe I just have no clue about anything.

-- Posted by RB on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 8:04 AM

Taximom, you say that offering to be a 'knight in shining armor' only demonstrates that johnpaulcoleman has something to hide, but whether or not his offer is sincere, why would the SOS group refuse it?

If it can gain them the same information and benefit the school instead of costing it, then as johnpaulcoleman questioned 'what do they have to lose'?

-- Posted by RB on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 8:12 AM

Shouty capitals - nothing like starting a Thursday morning with those! Whew!

John...why should the board and/or SOS trust you as the go between person? And if it does get as you say "worst case scenario" you sure you want your hands in all that?

-- Posted by Ice Breaker on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 8:52 AM

Seems to me what Taximom is saying is that Mr. Coleman makes a lot of controversial statements. No one knows where his rants will end up, so why should either party trust him to mediate a situation that has gone on for almost 2 years.

His questions at the board meeting were so scripted that it was ridiculous! By the way, he is incorrect. He may have posed the question to all board members, but NOT all members were given time to comment. Mr. Cundiff did not comment. The board "moved on."

He has a lot of "first hand knowledge" of the goings on of the RR. The more his motives are questioned, the more irrational his examples become and the more caps he uses. Really seems he has a fear of the RR. IF he doesn't have a fear of something coming out, maybe he should kindly butt out. Honestly, aside from the select few "regulars" who give Mr. Coleman his "atta boys", we're ALL sick of hearing from him!

-- Posted by areyoukiddingme2 on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 9:10 AM

Really, John? How many board meetings have you attended lately? Not sure you have attended the same meetings everyone else did. And it's hard to believe anything from the public meeting where you asked questions. That question/answer session was orchestrated from start to finish. Dr. Wall and a couple of the board members had information readily at their fingertips. Good gracious, Dr. Wall even held up pages to answer your questions that were highlighted.

Quit stirring up trouble! I'm calling a brown flag on the play or as you say, I'm calling a spade a spade!!!

-- Posted by areyoukiddingme2 on Thu, Sep 13, 2012, at 3:58 PM


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