The Sumner County Board of Education, whose legal bills have now mounted to more than $113,000, has made an emergency motion to the Court of Appeals to stay a judge’s order to update their public records policy to come into compliance with the law.
They argue that receiving a citizen’s request through the telephone would require system upgrades costing more than $45,660 and receiving requests through email would cost $22,500 annually, in addition to time training staff on how to use the equipment to receive public records requests by these methods.
In November, Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay found that the school board violated the Tennessee Public Records Act when it would not respond to a public records request by citizen Ken Jakes, who had emailed his request to the schools community relations officer, and followed up with a phone call. (Jakes had requested to inspect the school board’s public records policy.) The judge also found in November that the school board’s public records policy, which prohibited requests unless they were made in person or through the U.S. Mail, was in violation of the law. He ordered the school board to update its policy by March 1.
Last month, the school board argued for the judge to stay his order until after they can appeal his decision to the Court of Appeals, but Judge Gay denied their request. (Judge blasts Sumner Schools for refusing to update its public records policy, denies stay)
The school board’s attorney had argued it would be too costly to change the method of receiving requests, such as through their website or by telephone. The same arguments are made to the Court of Appeals in a new filing.
“Developing, adopting, and implementing a new policy would take time. The Board would need to draft a policy without relying on the Tennessee School Boards Association’s recommended policy, which conflicts with the chancery court’s ruling. It would then need to adopt that policy and allocate the funds to implement it,” attorney Todd Presnell argues in motion.
“It would also need to complete a competitive bidding process before purchasing equipment or services to implement the policy… Additionally, implementing a new policy would be costly. At trial, the Board’s Assistant Director for Information Services, Chris Brown, testified that licensing and equipment upgraded need to treat all emails and phone calls as potential public records requests would cost the Board $40,000.”
In a new affidavit by Brown attached to the motion, he said that updating the website to receive public records requests would cost $45,660, about 150 hours of programmer time and annual licensing fees of $1,000. He said updating the phone system to receive public records requests by phone would require buying an additional pair of local servers, also at $45,660, then 30 days to install and configure them. To receive requests by email would mean annual licensing fees would increase by $22,500.
Meanwhile, the Sumner County School Board’s legal bills have climbed past $113,000, reported The Tennessean, and are expected to rise more after the school board decided to appeal Judge Gay’s ruling.
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