Conway School Board & the FOIA


Conway School Board & the FOIA

The Conway School Board is showing us that we should never underestimate the cunning of those who want to get around the law.

The board’s email retention policy calls for all emails to be deleted three days after being read, an enlightening article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette informed readers late last month. The article is worth quoting at some length:

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“When requests for email correspondence are made through the Freedom of Information Act, district officials often respond that emails older than three days are potentially ‘no longer available’ because of the policy.

“‘The Arkansas FOIA is all about transparency and this policy is the exact opposite,’ said John Tull III, lawyer and recipient of the Freedom of Information Award from the Arkansas Press Association.”

Tull, who said he’s been working with the FOIA for 38 years, called the policy “the most egregious thumbing of the nose at transparency and FOIA I have ever seen.”

Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act does not directly address matters such as the district’s email policy, noted Rob Moritz, chairman of the Arkansas FOIA Task Force and a journalism instructor at the University of Central Arkansas. (In the interest of full disclosure, we note that Moritz is married to Arkansas Business Contributing Editor Gwen Moritz.)

Even good laws — and the state’s FOI Act is one of the stronger ones — can’t anticipate every devious stratagem of public officials.

We have to agree with Tull, who told the Democrat-Gazette that he thought courts would not find such a policy valid and that it puts the board at risk of FOIA lawsuits.

With all the controversy currently surrounding the Conway School Board, it seems that courting an FOIA lawsuit — and further eroding public trust — should be low on its list of priorities.