logo SPECIAL REPORT.jpg

What was discussed during a budget workshop in July has come to light more than two weeks later after the Gainesville Independent School District released a recording of the meeting Thursday, Aug. 15.

GISD budget, tax rate up for vote Monday

Prior to the GISD board of trustees’ specially called meeting on Monday, July 29, the Register requested a copy of the recording and any associated handouts board members might receive.

On Thursday, July 25, the district agreed to send everything via email following the meeting. The day after, however, Superintendent DesMontes Stewart decided he wanted to wait to release the information to the public in order to avoid a “hailstorm” from district employees.

In an interview with the Register on Tuesday, July 30, Stewart attempted to bargain with the Register, saying he would release the requested information if any salary information was left out of what the newspaper might report.

The Register declined, citing the public’s right to know about government proceedings and the Register’s regular practice of reporting on budget discussions. Stewart never emailed or called back after the discussion ended.

The Register then sent a formal open records request under the Texas Public Information Act that same day.

According to the state’s 2018 PIA handbook by the attorney general’s office, an officer for public information of a governmental body “shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer.”

“Promptly means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.”

The handbook explains that a member of the public does not need to make a request in formal language to trigger the PIA’s requirement to release information. As long as a written communication “reasonably can be judged to be a request,” the PIA applies, according to the 2018 PIA handbook.

When the Register emailed the district following up on the request, Kay Neu, administrative assistant of the superintendent’s office, replied Monday, Aug. 12, that the 10th business day from receipt of the formal request would be Aug. 14.

The district was closed Friday, Aug. 2, Neu’s email said. “Thanks for your patience and I will have everything sent over on the 14th.”

Information from the attorney general’s office states “it is a common misconception that a governmental body may wait 10 business days before releasing the information.” The requirement is to produce information “promptly,” according to the PIA.

The Register did not receive any records until the morning of Thursday, Aug. 15.

In response to a follow-up email Wednesday evening, Aug. 14, asking about the status of the Register’s request, Neu replied back with an apology early Thursday morning citing a “busy” first day of school on Wednesday.