A meeting in which architectural plans for the Huntsville School District Career and Technical Education facilities at Huntsville and St. Paul campuses were presented to three members of the Huntsville School Board, the Huntsville School District superintendent as well as other community leaders appears to have violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
The meeting was held at 10 a.m. on Sept. 24 to present the final plans for the district’s CTE buildings. It was attended by President of the School Board Danny Thomas, Board Member Kyle Taylor, Board Member Kevin Wilson, Superintendent of the Public Works Department Josh Murr, Huntsville Water Utilities Director Larry Garrett, Sean Davis and Willie Alexander of Huntsville Sewer and Water, Huntsville Fire Chief Kevin Shinn, Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix, Fisher and architect Craig Boone and Boone’s two associates.
Following the meeting on the afternoon of Sept. 24, Fisher sent an email to The Madison County Record. The email read: “Tuesday of this week we had a final look at the CTE plans for the St. Paul and Huntsville High School. I would like to thank ll (sic) the people who have made such a positive influence on these projects. Construction work on the HVAC projects at St. Paul Gym and the Charles Berry Gym should begin this week.”
After receiving the email, The Record inquired what time of day the meeting took place. Fisher responded “it was not a meeting.” Asked why the press was not notified as required by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Fisher stated that it was not a meeting. Asked who attended the meeting, Fisher said he could not remember.
Later that same day, Fisher responded to an email and stated only two school board members were present: Taylor and Thomas. Fisher did not indicate that Wilson had participated. The Record sought more information about the meeting via email and Fisher again answered that only two board members participated — Thomas and Taylor — and that the media and the public did not have to be notified since “it was not a meeting.”
The Record reached out to Wilson to confirm he attended but Wilson also refused to state whether he participated. He did not respond to various phone calls and emails.
When asked in person if he attended, Wilson said The Record would have to ask Thomas whether he (Wilson) phoned into the meeting. He stated that the school board should have just one point of contact.
“I think it will help you ladies (to ask Thomas) and the reason I say that is I think you’re able to have one point of contact,” Wilson said. Thomas confirmed that Wilson phoned into the meeting.
The Record informed Fisher that it had confirmed that three members were present. On Sept. 26, Fisher confirmed that two members were present — Thomas and Taylor — and one member — Wilson — called in. Fisher stated, “there’s no harm there. It wasn’t a meeting.”
When told because at least three board members were present and discussed public business, Fisher stated, “Well I don’t know what else to say.”
Asked if minutes were taken at the meeting, Fisher stated that no minutes were taken because “it was not a meeting.”
Arkansas law states that “all meetings, formal or informal, special or regular, of the governing bodies of all municipalities, counties, townships, and school districts and all boards, bureaus, commissions, or organizations of the State of Arkansas, except grand juries, supported wholly or in part by public funds and expending public funds, shall be public meetings.”
Furthermore, Ark. Code Ann. section 25-19-106, states “In the event of emergency or special meetings, the person calling the meeting shall notify the representatives of the newspapers, … located in the county in which the meeting is to be held and any news media located elsewhere that cover regular meetings of the governing body and that have requested to be so notified of emergency or special meetings of the time, place, and date of the meeting. Notification shall be made at least two (2) hours before the meeting takes place in order that the public shall have representatives at the meeting.”
According to The Record’s attorney and a recognized expert on FOIA law John Tull, “If three board members met with the superintendent, it is was a meeting covered under FOIA and in violation of the act.”
FOIA law states that any person who negligently violates any of the provisions of the law shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.
Thomas stated that Fisher is responsible for sending notices to the press of regular and special meetings.
When asked if The Record could get renderings of the architectural drawings that were presented, Fisher stated that The Record would have to call the architectural firm to get such drawings. According to FOIA, Fisher would be the custodian of the plans and as such would be the one to tender the plans. Fisher tendered the plans to The Record on Oct. 1.
Through its attorney, The Record filed a FOIA request on Sept. 26 seeking more information regarding the meeting but as of press time, the request was unanswered.
On May 21, Madison County voters approved a 3.9-mill increase for the school district. The increase will raise the district’s millage rate to 36 mills and will fund an activity center, two CTE facilities and air conditioning for the St. Paul and Charles H. Berry Gymnasiums. The millage increase passed with 869 votes for it and 829 votes against it.