Schools chief puts forth public-records policy

skinney@keynoter.comNovember 9, 2013 

Continuing to adjust how the Monroe County School District handles public-records requests, the School Board next week will consider an "improvement plan" put together by Superintendent Mark Porter.

Former Audit and Finance Committee member Larry Murray is the most visible critic of the district's retention and compliance process.

He's fighting the district's estimate of up to $4,400 to fulfill a request he made for e-mails among Porter, Human Resources Director Ramon Dawkins and administrator Christina McPherson over a $10,000 raise McPherson received.

At a Tuesday session set for 3:30 p.m. at Marathon High School, Porter will present his ideas on how the district can do better.

In his report, Porter calls records response an area of "acknowledged concern. A process improvement plan for dealing effectively and efficiently with [records requests] must include addressing improvement in the creation of records, the retention of records, and provision of records for inspection and copying."

Specifically Porter writes: "It is imperative that all employees understand what does, and what does not constitute a public record. When has a record been created that is thereby subject to retention and recovery, and how to avoid unnecessarily or unintentionally creating public records, particularly e-mails and text messages."

Asked if that is tantamount to directing staff to not create a paper trail of their work, Porter said that's not the idea, "but rather to exercise greater care and caution as to the use and content of electronic messages. Not solely from the perspective of public records creation but also from the standpoint of easily transmitted and shared information."

He called the provision "a very common guideline."

Presented with the "how to avoid" language, board member John Dick said, "Avoid is the word. That's like, 'Let's make a phone call, don't put stuff in e-mail.' As a board member, I like it in writing as a record. We know what's happening."

Also on Tuesday, board member Ed Davidson will present a largely token resolution affirming the district's commitment to transparency.

It reads in part "that all employees must cooperate with the disclosure and production of documents required by Florida" law and "that it is imperative that the School Board enhance the transparency standards of the board and the administration."

That would serve to "eliminate disclosure problems generating adverse public, board, administration and media controversy."

Porter will also recommend to the board creating a new full-time job for a public information officer earning between $55,000 and $85,000 annually. He also recommends spending from $25,000 to $75,000, a one-time cost, to scan and retain a backlog of material.

"Budget impact will depend upon final recommendations and board approval," Porter said.

For his part, Murray is hosting what he calls a First Amendment Fundraiser and Rally Wednesday, the day after the board meets, at Sippin' Coffee House, 424 Eaton St. in Key West, to help him with the cost of the district's bill to get the records he requested. The district estimated it at more than $4,000.

He contends the district is levying an excessive fee to discourage records requests.

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