A followup on the messy procedure by the state Board of Education this week on a meeting about a review of charter school expansion applications in Little Rock: It appears the Freedom of Information Act was flouted in the process.
On advice of the department attorney, a special meeting was scheduled Friday for the board to state additional information members would like relative to expansions of eStem and LISA Academy. The day before the meeting, the agenda was expanded to include a motion from Board member Brett Williamson to cancel the review and approve the expansions without further discussion.
How did this happen? By an illegal meeting of the Board by e-mail, it would appear.
Late yesterday, the Education Department belatedly responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by Benji Hardy on e-mails related to the meeting. All board members haven’t fully complied yet. But the e-mails that were provided show, for example, an email by Board member Diane Zook addressed to all Board members. The material included an e-mail from Williamson making a “motion” to scrap the review. In a note sent to all board members, Zook wrote that she seconded Williamson’s motion to scrap the review and added, “But not sure we move or vote without an announced meeting. I fear we have gotten off track with Law and Rules.”
Finally, Department attorney Kendra Clay sent an e-mail to all board members cautioning them not to send replies to all board members. “This can be considered a meeting under FOIA and must be done in public,” she wrote. She suggested that Board members could communicate with another department employee who could act as a “liaison to distribute information” to other members.
Using an intermediary to reach agreed action by the board is, if not a violation of the FOI, an offense to the spirit of the law’s aim that public business be done in public.
E-mails provided so far don’t shed light on how the Board reached the decision to remove Williamson’s motion from Friday’s agenda and leave the meeting only to discuss additional information.
I wonder if the FOI bulldogs at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is editorially cheerleading the charter school expansions at the behest of Publisher Walter Hussman, will quibble with FOI technicalities in this case?
I’m having technical problems with images this morning (finally corrected). But:
A PS: When this screwup started unfolding, the state Education Department’s first explanation of the surprise vote to cancel the review was instigated by Board member Jay Barth’s request for information. The documents produced so far indicate that statement was not true. Brett Williamson “moved” to cancel the review after being informed no one had asked for additional information. Williamson indicated in the documents his abiding preference for charter schools. He needs no more information to vote aye.