Woodmore: Court denies cell phone records request

By: 
Larry Limpf

A recommendation to deny a request by an Elmore resident for cell phone call/text detail logs of Woodmore school board members and administrators was filed Wednesday in the Ohio Court of Claims.
A special master of the court recommended the denial in the case brought by Denise Paule, who had lodged a complaint last year alleging she was denied access to public records by the school district.
In court mediation sessions, Paule and the district resolved all of her requests except for two that sought the cell phone call/text logs, according to the latest filing, which notes that Woodmore officials asserted the requested documents were not records of the district.
“Requester (Paule) alleges that the officials conducted district business by calls and texts using personal cell phones, and that the district pays monthly for their cell phone use for school business,”
the court entry says. “The special master found that this stipend is not contingent on any particular cell phone use, and that respondent (Woodmore) does not require recipients to provide copies of their cell phone records in order to receive the stipend.”
Paule also argued the district was responsible because there was a “quasi-agency relationship” between it and the cellular service providers but the special master disagreed, finding “no evidence that the public officials’ cellular service providers prepared cell/text logs in order to carry out respondent’s responsibilities, or that respondent was able to monitor the provider’s performance in this respect,” the court wrote.
Last September, Paule requested from the district administration all email correspondence from June 9-25, 2017, between several past and present school board members and administrators.
She also requested cell phone call/text detail logs regarding school district business.
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 district’s 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 board members 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 initial 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.
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,” her complaint says.
“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 at the time.
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.

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