New BA school superintendent waives search fee for copies of district's itemized legal bills

Broken Arrow's new school superintendent has waived the $90 search fee to redact information from copies of the district's itemized legal bills, says the woman who requested the records.

Beth C. Snellgrove said she received a phone call about noon today from district spokesman Keith Isbell, telling her that the new superintendent, Jarod Mendenhall, has waived the fee.

The fee was authorized by Gary Gerber, who retired today as superintendent.

Mendenhall's decision came after the FOI Oklahoma Blog's initial posting on the search fee last Thursday and an editorial and online article in The Broken Arrow Ledger today.

In the article, Gerber questioned Snellgrove's motive for requesting the records.

“Only Ms. Snellgrove knows her true motives for making the open records act request," he told the reporter.

"I don’t believe that Ms. Snellgrove’s request can be viewed in a vacuum," he said. "The timing of her request did raise eyebrows, as it came after the Sperry School District hired Ms. Snellgrove’s husband for what, I understood, to be a newly created position at Sperry. You will have to decide if this is reflecting a personal interest on her part rather than a public interest."

The reporter noted that Jim Sisney, who was dismissed as superintendent by the Broken Arrow Board of Education in 2008, is the superintendent of Sperry Public Schools.

This morning, the reporter asked me for a reaction to Gerber's comments. My response:
Ms. Snellgrove’s husband’s job for another school district would have no bearing on her status as a taxpayer and parent of children in Broken Arrow schools in making sure that district officials “are honestly, faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants.”

I asked Mr. Gerber twice if he considered the release of the itemized legal bills to be in the public interest. He wouldn’t answer the question. To say it’s not in the public interest would be idiotic and reveal him to be a petty bureaucrat. To say it is would be acknowledging that he couldn’t charge the search fee.

Mr. Gerber’s comments indicate he is charging the search fee because he has a personal grudge against Ms. Snellgrove rather than legitimate reasons under the state Open Records law.

Mr. Gerber’s response to this request leave me wondering how other people are treated when they ask the Broken Arrow school district for information that belongs to them – the public.

By waiving the fee, Mendenhall has taken a step in the right direction on what I suspect will be a long road to true transparency for Broken Arrow public schools.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.