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Reaction to records request a bit bafflingPosted 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @GCDWSchneider .
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