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 Shhhh! This is Super-duper Secret Stuff! Elected Official Not Asking; CAB Not Telling

November 14, 2007 - Despite learning over a month ago that a decision barring a school board member from seeing uncensored copies of public records may have been in error, the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation still has yet to correct the potential misstep.

Board member Kevin Knott asked the school corporation in September to see records that had previously been provided to The Banner in a heavily censored form in 2005. Acting on the advice of CAB's attorney, Jena Schmidt, CAB's public access officer and administrative assistant to the superintendent, only allowed Knott to see redacted, blacked-out copies of the records.

The records in issue are the following:

1. An attachment to a memo former CAB Superintendent Hal Jester sent school board members on July 29, 2005. Based on a heavily censored copy given to The Banner, it appears that Jester or someone familiar with CAB's cafeteria program responded to questions The Banner asked about the cafeteria program, including a nearly $60,000 discrepancy on cafeteria financial reports, and other issues.

2. A July 8, 2005, memo from Jester to the school board. Jester was supposed to explain in this memo how The Banner's news coverage of CAB's most recent audit had been "tilted and not completely accurate," but the copy provided to The Banner has nearly the entire first page, and part of the second page, blacked out.

3. An attachment to a memo Jester sent the school board on August 6, 2004, regarding a request to the Department of Local Government Finance for an "excessive levy appeal." This record was completely blacked out.

4. A "Special Board Memo" Jester sent school board members on February 26, 2004. The copy provided to The Banner in 2005 blacked out in its entirety. Schmidt told The Banner in late September that she was unable to locate an uncensored version of this record.

The Banner renewed its request for uncensored copies of these records this August. In addition to denying this request from The Banner, CAB also denied Knott's request to view the records in their entirety.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Heather Neal told The Banner in early October that she believed it was not proper for Knott or other board members to be kept from viewing the school corporation's records. Neal also told Schmidt she thought CAB needed to provide all board members with access to the records in their uncensored form.

The Banner contacted Schmidt on Tuesday, October 23, to see whether the uncensored records had been made available to Knott. She said they had not because Knott had not asked again to see them.

Knott apparently was not aware Schmidt was expecting him to renew his request to see the records. When he initially spoke to The Banner about this matter in early October, he said he had told Schmidt, after he was denied access to the unredacted records, that he wanted to see them "if they become available," a point he reconfirmed during a subsequent conversation.

When The Banner pointed out that Knott appeared to have left her with a standing request to see the records if the decision to withhold them was reversed, Schmidt said that had not been clear to her. "What he stated was not a clear request," Schmidt said. "It was a conversation we had - nothing formal, no formal request. I was in the middle of something as he was coming in and looking."

The Banner asked Schmidt whether board members were required to file formal record requests with her whenever they want to view CAB's records.

"I have no idea," Schmidt replied. "I've not had a board member ask me for anything."

Schmidt was also noncommittal about whether Knott would be allowed to see records if he did make a subsequent request.

"Let's worry about it when it happens," Schmidt said. "We'll just see what happens when it happens." Speaking to The Banner on October 25, Knott declined to comment on whether he planned to ask again for access to the records. While efforts to contact Knott for this story were not successful, Schmidt did tell The Banner that, as of Tuesday afternoon, she still had not received a renewed request from the board member.

Unable to resist commenting, Banner Publisher Eric Cox said he’s intrigued by the administration’s cryptic behavior. “That must be some big secret their keeping. The school board won’t ask for it. The administration won’t give it. And citizens and the press are left to wonder what shocking truth might never be revealed. CAB taxpayers deserve an open school administration that doesn’t disrespect them by hiding facts about something as mundane as a small public school corporation.”

The next meeting of the Charles A. Beard School Board is Tuesday, November 20, at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Central Office, located at 345 N. Adams St.


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