Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
Arm raised high, papers in hand, Gardner Edgerton School District Superintendent Bill Gilhaus, told the board Feb. 10 that there were millions of dollars of decisions to be made in the district, so why was so much time spent on “this issue,” meaning public records.
Or, visitors to the board meeting might have caught James Repshire, board member, referring to a “gnat’s ass” during the discussion on “this issue.”
“This issue” would be policy 5700, Public Records.
Despite a request from a patron that the board take no action on the policy until a public hearing could be held for district patrons to voice their comments or concerns, the board approved the measure.
Joe Hatley, attorney for the school district, told the board that he had spoken with the county assistant district attorney, who handles open records, and reported that he received approval that his approach in the writing of the public records policy was good.
Board members Rob Shippy and Mary Herbert were in favor of forming a committee to address district policies.  Herbert asked if it would be necessary to have an attorney present at the committee meetings to give guidance and answer questions.  Even though attorney Hatley indicated it would not be necessary, Gilhaus insisted that an attorney would be present.  No discussion was given to any costs associated with having an attorney attend every policy committee meeting.
Grannell indicated that he would be open to a public hearing, with the board present to interact with patrons. Shippy agreed.
Brad Chandler, board member, expressed he had a difficulty with the revised policy, as he felt it did not address all the concerns he had. Herbert seemed genuinely interested in Chandler’s hesitation to readily accept the policy as rewritten.  She admitted that it was apparent that each board member had a different understanding of what was going on.
Mary Nelson and Tresa Boden, board members, did not share their feelings on either a public records committee or a public hearing, but rather focused on who pays for Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) requests and keeping it “cut and dried.”  Boden felt as if they were being accused of not being fair when it came to fees assessed to some and not others. She wanted to see this remedied.
The board was split on the idea that open records that are readily available be offered to the person requesting without charge and in a timely manner. The discussion then evolved into what is the definition of readily available, if it takes five minutes to get the record then charge for five minutes of labor, to Gilhaus saying that staff may be too busy to even respond to a request for a readily-available record.
Repshire moved to accept the policy as rewritten, and after a long silence, Herbert seconded with the stipulation that they address the policy again in three months. In the end, the entire board voted to approve the revised policy as submitted and revisit the issue in three months.  There was no discussion addressing a public hearing on district policy.