Attorney: Superintendent, School Committee Fulfilled Public Records Request In Good Faith
Aug 13, 2015 12:42PM
By Bill Gilman
I have been asked to correspond on behalf of the Tewksbury School Committee in connection with your most recent story alleging that members of the Tewksbury School Committee and the Superintendent have refused to comply with requests for public records (Tewksbury Attorney Files Complaint Against School District With Secretary Of State, July 29). Given the extremely broad requests for records, and the question whether all documents requested are public records as that term is defined under law, we twice proposed to meet with Attorney Garrity to ensure that the approximately 1000 pages of records that were produced by the Superintendent were responsive to her request. She refused to meet.
Many of the items requested by the attorney are not clearly or unequivocally within the definition of public records under relevant law. Attorney Garrity sought literally thousands of individual communications from the personal cell phones of School Committee members and the Superintendent. While public figures and pubic officials surrender much of their privacy while they serve, it is not all clear or undisputed in the legal community as to whether public figures and public officials must surrender their personal cellphone for examination in response to a fishing expedition conveniently labeled as a “public records” request.
Press reports point out that the school district originally estimated the cost of retrieval for personal communications from the Superintendent’s personal cellphone at about $1,100.00. The press reports are not accurate when they state that the lowest paid employee on the staff can be assigned to complete the work. The applicable regulations reference the lowest paid employee who is competent to do the work. In this case, the search of the Superintendent’s personal cellphone for hundreds of thousands of emails, texts and other personal communications over a six month period could only be conducted by the Superintendent himself, not by office assistants.
We think reasonable people will understand that the Superintendent and elected public officials should not have to, and none of us would want to, surrender their personal cellphone contents to an employee who would then be forced to determine whether a particular form of communication was responsive to a lawyer’s request for documents. The countless hours expended by the Superintendent in response to the request netted about 1000 pages of documents over a six month period, which were provided at a cost of $150.00.
It is not now and never has been the intention of the Tewksbury School Committee to violate the Public Records or Open Meeting Law. If it is determined that the law was violated, the Committee will implement the recommended changes in practice. In the interim, and as the inquiry into the Public Records and Open Meeting Law questions remain open, at my suggestion the committee will not comment publicly. The Committee has acknowledged that it has mishandled information concerning the special education students and will participate in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s training relative to student privacy issues. The Committee and Superintendent have publicly apologized for the inadvertent release of student information. The District realizes that it has work to do to re-establish trust with many parents and looks toward the coming school year to rebuild the relationship and move forward.
Very truly yours,
Michael J. Long
Long & DiPietro, LLC
Attorneys at Law