Judge blasts Sumner Schools for refusing to update its public records policy, denies stay

Last week, Sumner County Criminal Court Judge Dee David Gay unleashed a verbal whipping to the Sumner County School Board when they argued to stay his order to update its public records policy to come into compliance with the law.

The Sumner County School Board wants to wait instead to see what the Court of Appeals says, and argued that allowing requests by phone or through its website would cost “significant public funds.” Currently, its policy allows the school board to deny any request from citizens to see public records if the citizen fails to make the request in person or send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service.

The dispute started when citizen Ken Jakes requested to inspect the school board’s public records policy, but was denied because he made the request by sending an email and by telephone. The judge, in ruling that the school board violated the law, ordered it in November to update its policy to allow requests by website and phone. (See Judge Dee David Gay’s ruling in Jakes vs Sumner County Board of Education).

“The Board would need to train staff on the new policy and obtain any necessary technological infrastructure to accommodate inspection requests submitted by phone or website,” the school board’s lawyer Todd Presnell argued in his brief. “During the implementation of a comprehensive new policy, the Board’s current communications systems cannot guaranty that all web-based or phone requests will be received and recorded, recognized as valid public-records requests, and timely fulfilled. In the interim, the Board would also need to ensure the protection of the current technological infrastructure and data, which could become vulnerable to malicious emails or other attacks.”

The argument did not sway Judge Gay, reported Josh Nelson in The Gallatin News. (See story: Schools dealt another setback in public records request case). From the story:

Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay

Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay

Gay almost immediately disagreed during a hearing Friday.

“You’ve had four or five requests and you’ve followed the policy in violation of what I ordered?” he asked, to which Presnell admitted. “So you’re going to, in my opinion, violate the law until the appeal? That is what you want to do?

“So what you’re saying is you’re going to continue to carry out a policy that I deemed and believe is in violation of the law while this is pending – you’re going to keep on doing what you did.

“I have set out some things that the school board can easily do, and it’s disturbing that they’re still running in violation of my opinion.

“I gave two suggestions to the (school board) – a website, which is already up and running, and telephones, which are already in service. This case has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with anything that says the defendant must accept an email. I said nothing about requiring the school board to adopt a policy for email.”

Gay was not done with expressing his disbelief.

“The school board has displayed an attitude of arrogance,” he said, “and I think that that must apply some when I consider a stay. Five years of blatant violation of the law, and I made a ruling, and the board of education continues to operate in violation of my ruling? I know there are good faith disagreements here, but what about the ruling?

Read also: What we learned from a citizen’s fight for public records in Sumner County.

What do you think?