Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Jefferson County school failed to justify delay in fulfilling request, violated Open Records Act

Jefferson County Public Schools violated the Open Records Act when it failed to give timely access to records or detail the cause for delay.

The school district also violated the act by failing to give an explanation of how the cited exemptions applied to the records withheld.

On July 25, 2016, the Attorney General's Office issued its opinion in the case of In re: Krystal Dolan/Jefferson County Public Schools, 16-ORD-153.

Dolan requested information on Feb. 18, 2016, asking for an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of correspondence about her or any specific documentation about her, or against O’Dell Henderson, with specific reference to seven of the district's employees.

Dolan said that as a public employee she has the right to inspect records about herself, even if they are usually exempt.

The following day, the school district responded it was in the process of gathering the documents she requested but would need more time to compile and review them before Dolan would get access, which was anticipated on March 18, 2016.

There were numerous communications between the parties starting on March 21. On March 23, the school district informed Dolan that 81 pages had been found and were ready for inspection or copying at ten cents per page.

The following day Dolan reiterated that she wished to inspect all “original electronic correspondence.” She asked that school system produce all records the following day or deny her request.

On March 25, the school district again requested additional time due to the clarification of the previous day.

On April 4, the school district attached documents to Dolan in partial response to her clarified request from March 24, but stated that employees were still searching and that any responsive documents should be available by April 15, quoting KRS 61.878(1)(i) and (j) without an explanation of how those related to the need to extra time.

By April 11,  the school district had found seven additional pages, again quoting KRS 61.878(1)(a) without explanation.

Dolan’s appeal was already initiated, and she supplied the attorney general's office with the April 11 email, stating that the school district had failed to justify its use of the statutes and its late invocation of them as well.

In its response, the school district stated it initially had more than 5,000 pages of emails and it needed more time than initially computed. The district also said that Dolan had no reasonable ground to complain, because the school district initially responded within three days of the request stating it would take additional time.

The attorney general's office held that the initial response by the school district did not fulfill various statutes. The opinion said that while the response was timely under KRS 61.880(1), it was still deficient because it did not provide her access to the records within that three-day window or cite the exceptions and how they applied to the records being withheld.

The school district needed to not only cite KRS 61.872(5) and provide a specific date that the records would be available, but to give a detailed explanation for the delay, which it failed to do.

The late invocation of statutes also troubled Beshear. He said that not only the lateness of its use, but the school district’s failure to identify specific records being withheld or how the statute applied was also wrong under the act.

This is a case that shows the timetable under which Open Records Request should be fulfilled. If an agency, knowing that a request will produce a voluminous number of records to sift through, should give a date the records will be available, cite the statutes, and clearly explain why the delay is needed.

No comments:

Post a Comment