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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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        A complaint filed with the Ohio Court of Claims by an Elmore resident requesting cell phone call records from several Woodmore school board members and administrators has been referred to mediation.

        Jeffery Clark, an attorney who was appointed special master in the case, issued the mediation notice Wednesday.

        Denise Paule, of W. Portage River Road South, filed a complaint earlier this month with the court after not receiving the requested records.

        Paule contends the requested information is public record.

        On Sept. 19, she requested from the district administration all email correspondence from June 9-25, 2017, between Cara Brown, a board member, and Kevin Ball, the middle school principal and then interim superintendent, as well as emails from Brown to board members Sean Rizor, Sam Preston, Corinna Bench, and Joe Liszak and principals Gary Haas and Jim Kieper for the same dates.

        She also requested cell phone call/text detail logs regarding school district business from Ball to Rizor, Brown, Preston and Haas for the same dates and all emails from Ball to Rizor, Preston, Liszak, Bench, Kieper and Haas. Ball was interim superintendent at the time.

        Emails from Brown to the Scott Scriven Law Firm from June 9 through July 1, 2017 and emails from Rizor to Ball from June 9-25 were also requested.

        The administration responded to Paule on Oct. 8, providing emails between the board members and administrators but denying her requests for the cell phone text logs and emails to the law firm.

        “If you are asking for the call/text logs, your request for copies of the personal cell phone call/text log detail of the employees listed in the request is denied because your request does not pertain to ‘public records’ as defined by Ohio Revised Code,” Dan Russomanno, district treasurer, responded by email to Paule. “These personal cell phone call/text log details are not created by the school district, they are not received by the school district, and they do not come under the jurisdiction of the school district.”

        Communication between Brown and the law firm is subject to attorney-client privilege, he wrote, and some of the other requested records were denied or redacted because they fall under The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

        Paule’s complaint argues the school board violated state law by not holding a meeting for deliberating action it took after an incident at a June 11, 2017 meeting. While the board was in executive session someone in the audience allegedly turned off a board recording device in the room where the open session was being held and a few minutes later turned it back on before the board reconvened.

        On June 13, Brown filed a report with the Elmore Police Department, which filed a report and copy of the audio with the Ottawa County prosecutor’s office. Police Chief Jeff Harrison said Thursday the prosecutor’s office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing .

        Rather than discussing the incident in a public meeting and then deciding to take action, Paule’s complaint says, board members discussed the matter by cell phone and emails.

        “They have chosen to conduct their business on cellular phone which then created the record. The public’s right to open government then leads to the only document they created which is cell phone records and the call text log created the minute they hit send,” the complaint says.

       Last week, Paule said the mediation process is the appropriate way to find answers about the board’s actions and what is and isn’t public record.

        “My question is, where was that decision made? There has to be something documented that the board is going into a session to have executive discussion if it’s private. None of that is there. That is why I’m seeking records on that,” she said.

        Tim Rettig, who became the district superintendent after the board’s June 11 meeting, said the board has since adopted a policy of not leaving a recorder on when adjourning for an executive session.

        “The complaint concerning public records filed against the Woodmore Local Schools is a welcome opportunity to a resolution of a difference of opinion over whether cell phone and text logs of personal cell phones constitute public record or not,” he said in a prepared statement.  “Our counsel has advised us these logs are not public record. The process of mediation, which we will be going through in the Ohio Court of Claims can only be initiated by a complainant. Woodmore Local Schools cannot initiate a claim to find a resolution to this issue. Woodmore as always strives to provide public records for anyone who would desire these records.”

 

 

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