Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
A public records debate made another appearance at the Jan. 13 USD 231 board of education meeting.  Although the topic appeared on the agenda released midday the meeting date, a copy of the proposed revised policy, Policy 5700, up for discussion was not available as an attachment to the agenda item. The last policy changes were made in spring 2013 with no prior discussion or public input.
Mark Grannell, board president, opened the policy discussion by asking fellow board members if the revised policy accomplished the district’s goals.  He said that he felt the policy did not address how much and at what point the district should require pre-payment or pre-approval to process an open records request.
When discussion turned to how it is determined who will be charged for KORA requests, Bill Gilhaus, superintendent, told the board that 95 percent of all KORA requests come from three entities. He said those who make repetitive requests should be charged and all others the district would try to accommodate.
“It’s called discretion,” Gilhaus said.
Although several board members offered their thoughts, there was no clear consensus on aparticular path to take with the policy rewrite. Grannell, however, gave instructions to Joe Hatley, attorney to the district, on how to proceed. There was no mention of public input or a public hearing in regards to policy change.
Since the initiation of billing for Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) requests in May of 2012, administrative staff confirmed that the loss associated with the one KORA request not picked up was $122.47.
This particular billing has been at the center of a dispute between a district patron and USD 231.  The patron indicates he sent an email asking for a copy of a district policy and the district treated it as a KORA request, then presented him with a bill for $122.47. Following discussion at a recent BOE meeting, board members instructed Gilhaus to reverse this billing and clear the record of this patron.
Exactly how much the district officials have spent debating the public records policy could not be obtained from the administrative offices at press time. The district’s attorney charges more than $200 per hour.