by Justin Owens, The Beacon Center - Recently, Joelton resident Ken Jakes sought information from the Sumner County school system. Like many residents seeking public records here in the 21st Century, Jakes submitted his request to the school district via email.
The district’s response: “Not so fast, techie.” His request was denied because the school district apparently does not accept public records requests via this new-age email wizardry. (Speak up, Sumner County. We can’t hear you way back there in 1952.)
This would be knee-slapping hilarious if such stubbornness didn’t cost Sumner County taxpayers $94,000 in legal bills defending the district’s policy. Maybe state law does not mandate that local governments accept open records requests via email, but common sense sure does. Taxpayers should be outraged that the school district had the audacity to spend their hard-earned money defending such stupidity in court.
Sadly, this is just chump change for the school district. Late last year, district officials pleaded with the Sumner County Commission to raise property taxes. The commission eventually raised taxes by more than 10% in part to send more money to the school system. As one observer noted, the district’s legal bills are enough money to pay the salaries of two new teachers. I bet those teachers could even spend a little time after school bringing their bosses into the modern era. I would email Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips this blog post, but somehow I doubt he’d receive it. And I seem to have misplaced my telegraph machine.
In an email from Ken Jakes to me, Ken wrote:
Rod, Below is an article about the law suit I have filed with Sumner County Board of Education. The outcome of this suit creates legal precedence which protects every citizen in Tennessee. I made a public record request to SCBE to inspect and review the public record policy of SCBE. I also stated if the record policy was on line they could simply provide the link. I asked them to contact me when ready for review and I will make a physical in person review of the records.
They denied my request. I then made the request by phone. They again denied the request.
I was forced to defend my rights and freedoms by filing a law suit. My court date is not until July 29 and they have already ran the bill up to 94,000.00 dollars. What will the bill be after it goes to trial? How many school books could have been purchased by the time this is over? What are they paying the Director of Schools to make such a stupid decision? I fully informed them where this would go if they denied my request. Some people just don't have common sense.
Here is a link to the story published in The Standard of Hendersonville: Taxpayers footing $94,000 for school lawsuit fees. In the article Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the district could have saved taxpayers a lot of money, by just complying with Jake's request. "Even though the case hasn't gone to court," said Ms Fisher, "in one of the preliminary hearings, the judge pointed out if the school (system) had just emailed back to let Ken Jakes know there was a public records policy online, they wouldn't have had to spend that money. Fisher said. "He was just seeking to see what the public records policy was. Not only did they not give it to him, they didn't acknowledge he made a request - if they had, they wouldn't be spending all this money. That $94,000 could have gone a long way in paying for two teacher salaries - to me it seems like a waste of taxpayer money."
I could not agree more. Unbelievable arrogance and stupidity!
Ken Jakes is to be commended for standing up for the rights of citizens to know what their government is doing. Ken has on many occasions exposed government corruption and mismanagement. You may recall a couple years ago when it was revealed that Nashville Electric Service was giving free services to Opryland Hotel and executives of NES were getting free tickets to performances, free golf games, rooms and other freebies. That discovery led to more discovery of widespread mismanagement and corruption at NES. That situation was brought to light due to the work of Ken Jakes and information he gleamed from a Freedom of Information request. That is only one of several times that Ken has exposed corruption and government waste.
Ken Jakes is a candidate for a Metro Council at-large seat in Davidson County. If elected, Ken Jakes will not march in lockstep as one of forty hiding in the herd. I am convinced that if something is wrong, he will vote against it even if he is the only one. Who knows, if he cast a view "no" votes, that may give some backbone to some of the other members of the Council. I am convinced he will expose waste and corruption and mismanagement in Metro Government and be a advocate for fiscally responsible government. He won't be cowered and won't go along to get along. As a citizen activist, he has already done more for the cause of good government than most of the Council have done in eight years. If he has accomplished what he has as a citizen, I suspect he will do much more as an elected member of the Metro Council. He is the kind of maverick we need in Metro Government.