This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.
Beat reporters are encouraged to routinely request public documents about the employees of public agencies we cover, such as Form 700s -- Statements of Economic Interest.
Since it had been a few years since I had done this, I recently requested these public documents for every Mt. Diablo school district trustee, as well as Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards and assistant superintendents Rose Lock and Julie Braun-Martin. I asked to see the forms for this year and prior years, since the trustees were elected and the administrators were hired or promoted into their current positions.
The board expects to vote Monday on amended contract extensions for the five top administrators.
Although these Statements of Economic Interest are legally required to be kept on file for public review, I was told when I called about them that I needed to file a Public Records Act request. I complied on March 15 but included a paragraph saying I didn't believe it was necessary to file a formal request for documents that are supposed to be available for routine public inspection.
On Monday morning, I received a voice-mail message from Richards saying that the forms for this year and last year were available for review but that those from previous years had been "archived," which is why he wanted a Public Records Act request. I sent an email saying that I had already submitted a formal request for the older documents but would visit the district office Tuesday to view the more recent forms.
When I arrived, Richards' secretary showed me two very well-organized files containing the forms for 2011-12 and 2012-13, which she had compiled. But she very apologetically explained that records from prior years did not appear to be well-organized and she was unsure where the missing documents were located, since she had not worked in that department when they were collected.
As I was going through the forms from 2012-13, I noted that General Counsel Greg Rolen's form was checked off on the list yet was missing. In addition, forms for former trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh -- who were overseeing district affairs through Dec. 10, 2012 -- were not included.
When I pointed out the missing documents to Richards' secretary, she called Rolen's secretary to ask for his form. Rolen's secretary then provided a form dated March 17, two days after he had received my Public Records Act request.
While I was there, attorney Deb Cooksey told me she would be handling my Public Records Act request for the older documents, but she wasn't sure where they were. She promised to search various locations, including other buildings where files may have been moved.
Since the district sends the forms to the county, I later suggested to Cooksey in an email that she might be able to save time by simply requesting the forms from the county. She agreed to this idea.
In the meantime, it may be faster for me to request the forms directly from the county myself.
Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district responds adequately to requests for public records?