School system not so open with SPLOST ‘public’ records

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 3:05pm
By: The Citizen

On Aug. 4, a story in The Citizen indicated there was considerable disagreement between Fayette County Board of Education members Janet Smola and Dr. Bob Todd.

Dr. Todd seemed troubled by the crash program to put a SPLOST referendum on the November general election ballot only after the re-election of a majority of the Board of Education was assured.

Mrs. Smola vigorously disagreed, remarking that county staff had spent “hundreds of hours” this past year coming up with ESPLOST cost justifications and proposals.

This seemed to surprise many people since the school board had never made a motion or voted for the school administration to investigate a SPLOST prior to the election.

In order to find out whether Dr. Todd or Mrs. Smola was correct, I made an Open Records request on Aug. 18 to Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, the public information officer for the Fayette County school system.

I asked for all documentation and emails regarding the proposed SPLOST between the board, five senior staff members and any outside consultants.

I was surprised to receive a reply NOT from Ms. Berry-Dreisbach but instead from school board attorney Phil Hartley.

Mr. Hartley informed me that providing me with documentation of the ESPLOST proposals would require the equivalent of two full-time employees for one solid week at a cost of $22.50 per person per hour, and therefore would cost me approximately $2,000 if I wished to continue my inquiry.

Two thousand dollars is a lot of money to pay for something that should be readily available to the public.

I find it very hard to believe that a simple request that should be easily accomplished by typing in the key word “SPLOST” would require 80 man-hours of labor to complete.

But even the information that supposedly was readily available is still to be received. I have paid more than $40 for copies of materials which, as of Aug. 26, have not been given to me.

Perhaps the school board is not aware of how this looks and how it will be interpreted by the community. I have spoken to numerous people about this and the consensus is that the school board members have opted to hide behind their attorney and are not being entirely truthful with the public about either the planning or the necessity for the proposed SPLOST.

The impression is that the school district’s historic and continuing lack of candor goes a long way towards explaining why Fayette County is one of the few counties in Georgia unable to pass a SPLOST.

T. Morris

Peachtree City, Ga.

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