If they’re public, they’re public.
Locally, that logic certainly applies to the Anniston Board of Education, an elected body whose job it is to oversee the city’s schools. The “agenda packet” given to board members before meetings, minus any personnel or privileged material, is public record. The legal precedent is clear.
The Anniston Board of Education should make those packets available to residents who attend board meetings. But Mary Harrington, the board president, has assumed the role of ultimate protector of the board’s public information. In this instance, she’s more roadblock than leader. And she says there’s something wrong with board member Bill Robison’s proposal to make the agenda packets readily available.
“Somebody has wasted some valuable time (compiling the information), that’s what wrong with it,” she says.
Really? That’s Harrington’s complaint? That someone has to make a few more copies of the packets?
We’re resisting the urge to chuckle at Harrington’s reason for standing in the way of Robison’s worthwhile proposal. That type of laughter is too easy and, quite frankly, not worth the effort.
Instead, we’ll remind Harrington and those who may agree with her of a simple fact: Like the agendas of city councils, school board agenda packets are public record. The non-personnel-related documents in the packets fall under the Alabama Open Records Act. A 2000 opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s office confirmed that these records are public.
Even the Alabama State Department of Education distributes copies of its agenda packets to attendees at its meetings. “We always provide packets as people walk in,” Malissa Valdes-Hubert, public information officer for the department, told The Star.
So we ask: What’s the real reason Harrington doesn’t want Anniston residents to have a better understanding of what the board is doing?
Lacking a logical explanation, it seems Harrington would rather eschew transparency and give off the appearance of preferring secrecy. If that’s the case, it’s a slap in the face of Anniston parents who take the time to be involved in their schools but are told they don’t need to know what’s going on.