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CAB Board Member Issues Statement About Records
November 21, 2007 - A news story in last week's Banner prompted a Charles A. Beard School Board member to issue a statement Monday regarding his unsuccessful attempt to inspect public records held by the school corporation.
Board member Kevin Knott asked CAB's public access officer, Jena Schmidt, in September to let him see uncensored copies of four documents former Superintendent Hal Jester gave school board members in 2004 and 2005. Schmidt only allowed him, however, to see heavily redacted copies of the records - copies that had significant portions blacked out - a decision that has since been criticized and called into question by Indiana Public Access Counselor Heather Neal.
While the fact that he was not allowed to see the uncensored documents is not in dispute, Knott's recollection of the circumstances surrounding his request to view these records does differ from Schmidt's. When he spoke to The Banner Monday, Knott said he was issuing a statement (see sidebar, right) to clarify what had transpired between himself and Schmidt.
Knott told The Banner he was concerned that Schmidt's comments in the November 17 Banner might give some people the wrong impression. With Schmidt saying she had been "in the middle of something" when he came in to look at the records, Knott said he wanted to clarify that he had not simply dropped by CAB's central office unexpectedly asking to see the records.
"It wasn't a drop-in," Knott explained. "I called the day before and set the time to be there, because I had a meeting at 8:30 at the school." He said when he asked if he could come in the next morning, Schmidt suggested they meet at 8 a.m.
Knott and Schmidt also do not agree as to what transpired once he arrived at the central office.
Schmidt told The Banner in early October that she had told Knott she needed to check with CAB's attorney before she could let him see the uncensored copies of the records. Knott has told The Banner that Schmidt said nothing about needing to consult with the attorney, but simply told him she had been unable to locate the records.
Schmidt previously told The Banner that CAB's attorney, Mike Wallman, advised her not to let Knott see the records in question because they had been "classified as confidential" when redacted copies were given to The Banner in 2005 in response to a record request. Neal, the state's public access counselor, disagreed with this position, telling The Banner - and Schmidt - that she didn't believe it was proper for Knott, or any other board member, to be denied access to the uncensored copies of the records.
Despite Neal's admonition, as of Monday, Schmidt still had not contacted Knott to make arrangements for him to view the uncensored copies of these four records. Schmidt had previously told The Banner that she had not followed up with Knott because he had made no further request to see the records, something Knott said he believes is not necessary.
According to Knott, after Schmidt told him she could not locate the uncensored copies of the records, he told her he wanted to see them if they became available. Schmidt has said, however, "What he stated was not a clear request."
When contacted Tuesday morning, Schmidt declined to provide any comment on the differences between her recollection of events and Knott's. "I don't really want to dwell on this issue," she said.
Once again unable to resist commenting, Banner Publisher Eric Cox said Schmidt’s reluctance to dwell on this issue is curious in light of what he considers an easy way out of the situation.
“How does the school corporation keep a straight face when it denies an elected official access to public records?” Cox said. “This is the same kind of smug, smirky attitude served up regularly by the previous long-time administration. I guess it’s no surprise that the people responsible for this latest debacle are holdovers from that administration. With a school board election coming up this May, I hope taxpayers have had their fill of these un-American activities.”
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