Bureaucrats of state’s largest school district regularly
‘forget’ state law, thus blocking public transparency
Editor's note: See below for story update.
It was last fall when a Nevada Journal story publicly questioned whether the Clark County School District Police Department had legal authority to issue traffic tickets on roadways not adjacent to schools.
Receiving no immediate answer, Nevada Journal turned to Nevada’s public-records law and — under its provisions — formally requested to inspect all traffic citations issued by school police between March 1 and Oct. 27, 2011, plus any department audits pertaining to traffic enforcement or traffic citations.
Today, more than three months and many, many conversations and e-mails later, Nevada Journal is still waiting for the school district to comply with state law.
The obvious question is: “What is the district trying to hide?”
The state’s public-records law mandates that “not later than the end of the fifth business day” after receiving a public-records request, a governmental agency must “allow the person to inspect or copy the public book or record.” Or the agency, in writing, can notify the person making the request of a “date and time after which the public book or record will be available for the person to inspect or copy.”
If a governmental entity claims something is legally confidential, statutes require it to provide the requester, in writing, with “a citation to the specific statute or other legal authority that makes the public book or record, or a part thereof, confidential.”
A few inquiries and a few days after the five-day deadline for responding to its Oct. 27, 2011 request passed, Nevada Journal was advised by Lt. Ken Young, the public information officer for district police, that inspection of the 1,100 traffic tickets would cost $766, due to “the labor intensive process to review and redact personal information associated with each citation” — $546.00 for staff overtime and $220.00 for copies.
Lt. Young’s response, however, failed to cite any legal authority that makes any parts of the traffic tickets confidential. The response also raised no claims of confidentiality regarding the audits. Nor did the district comply with the requirement in state law that it provide a “date and time” when the audits would be available for inspection. In fact, the district police department failed to address inspection of the audits at all.
Nevada Journal asked what legal authority, if any, made the traffic-ticket information confidential. The publication also asked why the school district police were charging Nevada Journal twice the district’s stated copy fees to merely inspect the records. No copies, after all, were requested.
For several weeks, the school district advised Nevada Journal that the district’s legal office was reviewing the records and an answer would be forthcoming.
“I've got legal in the loop, and they want to see a citation [ticket] from CCSD-PD. CCSD-PD probably has to inter-district-mail it to us. That could take a few days,” advised the district’s chief communication officer, Amanda Fulkerson, on Nov. 15, 2011.
Two weeks later, Nevada Journal was provided with legal citations. Additionally, Fulkerson informed Nevada Journal “that no overtime [would] be used and only our stated policy on copy fees [would] be charged.” Fulkerson also wrote that she had asked CCSD’s then-chief of staff, Craig Kadlub (who subsequently retired), “to get involved in making the audits available.”
CCSD, however, provided no revised cost estimate, and one of CCSD’s legal citations appeared incoherent. So Nevada Journal requested clarification. Since then — Nov. 29 — Nevada Journal has had countless conversations, e-mail communications and two face-to-face meetings seeking clarification of CCSD’s cited legal authority and a revised cost estimate. A date and location when and where the audits can be inspected have repeatedly been requested.
On Dec. 29, the district advised Nevada Journal’s reporter that “Legal” would “like to respond now.”
Except, five weeks later, “Legal” still had not done so. Also, after CCSD transferred Nevada Journal’s contact from Fulkerson to new chief of staff Kirsten Searer, the district is still saying it “aim[s]” to provide clarification, a cost estimate and the date and time where audits can be inspected.
The latest exchanges:
Jan. 19, 2012, e-mail to Searer, following a Jan. 10, 2012, status update request:
I did not receive a response from you regarding this request for an update on my public records request to inspect CCSD-PD tickets and audits.
Please advise on the status of my request. Briefly, I am still waiting on clarification regarding confidentiality and redaction; a cost estimate for CCSD’s revised costs; and direction on where I can inspect audits.
Jan. 20, 2012, reply from Searer:
I believe this request will be back to you by the end of the day, or Monday at the worst. I will check in on the status.
Jan. 20, 2012, e-mail from Searer:
OK, I apologize, I spoke too soon. Something has come up in processing your request for traffic tickets and we will need another week. We will aim to have you the information by Friday, January 27, but I will keep you updated. Thank you.
Jan. 26, 2012, e-mail from Searer:
Hi Karen —
I wanted to let you know that Lt. Young is out of the office tomorrow so we'll have to get your response on the traffic tickets early next week. Thank you!
Today, Feb. 6, it is one week after that “early next week” date. What has been CCSD’s “response”?
Par for the course: i.e., zilch.
Such apparently cat-and-mouse behavior by CCSD officials, cumulative evidence suggests, is actually consciously intended to discourage, frustrate and prevent public insight into what actually goes on within the district.
After all, it’s not merely Nevada Journal’s inquiries that receive this treatment.
Consider last summer, when George Knapp, chief investigative reporter for 8 News NOW’s I-Team, exposed a possible CCSD-PD cover-up in the death of Angela Peterson, a college honor student who’d been killed by an underage drunk driver who’d become intoxicated at a party thrown by a CCSD-PD dispatcher. At the time, the team’s producer got a similar runaround.
Since the I-Team reports aired, Metro completed an investigation and Chief Arroyo, who last October had been placed on administrative leave, resigned. (Other than to say they will respond in 30 days, Metro has not responded to Nevada Journal’s Jan. 12, 2012, request to inspect the investigation report.)
According to e-mails provided to Nevada Journal by the I-Team producer, the station on Aug. 8, 2011 had requested “a copy of Chief Arroyo's professional resume, the one included in the paperwork or packet he submitted while applying for a job at CCSDPD in 2005.”
Nearly two weeks later, Lt. Young informed the I-Team that Chief Arroyo declined to provide his personal resume and advised that Arroyo’s “bio” could be read online.
The I-Team producer wrote back:
The resume is clearly in the domain of public information. The Chief is a public official whose salary is paid with public dollars. The information he provided in order to show his qualifications for the job are definitely within the public domain. Furthermore the Chief has expressed the importance of submitting a valid resume and application when he fired [name redacted] for submitting a false application. There is no valid reason Chief Arroyo should not be subject to the same standard. As a Government Entity the CCSD School Police are subject to NRS Chapter 239 which deals with Public Record in Nevada.
Please provide me with the exemption under that NRS which would allow you [to] with-hold the basic job history information Arroyo initially provided when he applied for the job by sending a copy of his resume. (Emphasis added.)
In an e-mail to Nevada Journal and CCSD’s Fulkerson last week, the I-Team producer forwarded the e-mail chain in which his requests for the legal authority — under which CCSD was denying access to Chief Arroyo’s resume — had gone unanswered.
On Feb. 1, 2012, Fulkerson issued the following statement to Nevada Journal regarding the I-Team’s request:
CCSD is committed to transparency and being responsive to our constituents. This is the first I've heard of the request by Mr. Knapp and will research the reason the record was withheld. I can't speculate why this document was withheld, but there are laws that protect personal information from being distributed. Also note that while Mr. Arroyo was employed with CCSD his bio that includes his work history was posted to the CCSD Police department's website.
Subsequently, in an email received on Feb. 3, Searer informed Nevada Journal that “[f]ormer chief Arroyo's resume is confidential personnel information.
“Confidential records are protected under NRS 239.010; NRS 386.350; CCSD Regulation 1212; and CCSD Regulation 4311. Therefore, former chief Arroyo’s resume will not be released.”
“Personnel information,” wrote Searer later, "is required to be protected under district regulations. CCSD Regulation 1212 provides: 'Confidential information concerning all personnel will be safeguarded.' Regulation 4311 further provides: 'All personnel information regarding district employees is confidential and may be reviewed only on a need-to-know basis.'”
However, NRS 386.350 explicitly states that “Each board of trustees is” only “given ... reasonable and necessary powers,” that do not conflict “with the Constitution and the laws of the State of Nevada.” And CCSD cited no state law declaring resumes confidential.
According to NRS 239.010, unless records are “declared by law to be confidential, [they] must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person.”
Over the past three months, Nevada Journal has been assigned numerous points of contact to facilitate its Oct. 27, 2011 request — David Roddy, CCSD public information officer; Lt. Ken Young, CCSD-PD public information officer; Amanda Fulkerson, CCSD chief communications officer; Dr. Craig Kadlub, the CCSD superintendent’s chief of staff (who retired in December); and, of course, the superintendent’s current chief of staff, Kirsten Searer.
So far, however, none have managed to facilitate CCSD compliance with Nevada’s public-records law.
Update (Feb. 6, 2012): After the deadline for this story had passed, Nevada Journal received a response from CCSD-PD.