If whining were a sport, the Milton School Board would be in first place, with board President Joe Martin as team captain.
He was in all-star form at Monday’s board meeting, during which he used an agenda item to discuss the “problematic” situation of the public seeking open records.
Open records requests are “adding up” and “causing a tremendous burden on our staff,” Martin announced.
Fulfilling these requests “comes at a considerable cost,” he said.
“We have a lot of staff time involved, and, quite frankly, that’s pulling them away from the stuff that we need them to do,” he added.
Not to mention the legal bills. They’re $16,000, Martin proclaimed. “Now, those are not costs we can recoup on any of the requesters,” he continued. “Those are costs we have to bear, and we will. But in the community, I want you aware of what that cost is.”
We can almost hear the violins playing in the background. But sorry, Mr. Martin, we’re not buying your woe-is-me performance.
Board member Brian Kvapil wasn’t buying it, either. He questioned Martin’s motives in placing the “open records” item on the agenda.
“It just seems to me that we’re trying to ... convince people not to seek information when we should be asking them to seek all the information they can and try to be transparent,” Kvapil said.
Martin didn’t call out The Gazette specifically, but we’re admittedly (and proudly) part of the so-called burden on this district.
The Gazette filed open records requests related to the $20,500 in bonus payments for outgoing Superintendent Tim Schigur and Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz.
Another aspect of The Gazette’s requests concerns the $447,000 severance packages, including $223,000 in “compensatory damages,” awarded to Schigur and Schuetz. The Gazette has sought details on decisions made to compensate the two administrators. We’ve been stonewalled at nearly every turn.
Martin’s complaints about attorney fees incurred from the records requests are particularly galling. He’s like a kid striking out at the plate and then blaming the pitcher for throwing the ball too hard.
Martin forgets the board decided to cede control of all things Schigur and Schuetz to attorneys. Nobody forced the school district to shovel thousands of dollars to attorneys to manage the public relations fallout from the district’s under-the-table bonus payments and clandestinely negotiated golden parachutes for these two. The board on its own volition built an information barrier between the district and the public.
The public shouldn’t feel guilty for acting on its right to know and upsetting the district’s persistent efforts to maintain secrecy.
Martin has it all backwards. The problem isn’t the open records requests.
The problem is the board’s and district staff’s attitude toward fulfilling these requests. Mr. Martin, whine about that.