“Forgot” command


The passage of years has regularly emptied my little brain of a respectable memory. Even at that, I doubt I would forget to honor a court order ordering me to complete a task by a certain date.

Sadly, that’s what happened to the Huntsville School Board earlier this month when it failed to complete a Freedom of Information Act training course within 60 days, as the ordered Circuit Judge Doug Martin.

Ellen Kreth, publisher of the weekly Madison County Record, contacted the district Feb. 14 to inquire about training and was told by Superintendent Audra Kimball that her administration was unaware of the court deadline, despite the fact that Martin’s order had been signed and “filed for record” two months prior, on December 15, 2021.

Kreth said Kimball told him, “We’re going to get it in place as quickly as we can,” after he was alerted to the potential violation of the court order. “I will contact our attorney and go through this very quickly.”

Late in the afternoon of February 14, Kimball emailed board members and The Record that FOIA training had been scheduled immediately after the next board meeting, which has occurred.

District Attorney Charles Harwell (who represented the district in the FOIA lawsuit) led the training, which lasted less than an hour. Harwell began the training session by acknowledging that counseling was not in compliance with the court’s schedule. “I’m going to take the blame for the fact that we put this together today,” Harwell said during the meeting.

Benjamin Rightsell sued the district and the council last summer, alleging he repeatedly violated FOIA.

The board admitted to multiple FOIA violations by holding special meetings throughout the year without contacting the press; by not recording these meetings; conducting school business by text message rather than in public; and attending training sessions without contacting the press and without recording those meetings, according to Kreth’s story.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, who represents Rightsell, said: “I think it’s paramount to comply with the court order in this regard. They have obviously violated FOIA on numerous occasions and they need training. And every day that goes by that they don’t get training is a day that there could be more potential violations of the Freedom of Information Act.”

Told that the council had not held its training session within the 60 days mandated by the court, McCutchen said that his convening of that session shortly after being alerted to the deadline alleviates the problem somewhat.

“But you’re just not violating court orders,” he said. “You just don’t do it. If the court tells you to do it within 60 days, you do it within 60 days, period.”

The agreed order, in addition to mandatory training, barred the board from further FOIA violations.

In another case involving Kimball, the council voted to extend her contract until June 2025, putting aside concerns about an ongoing criminal investigation into how she and council members handled assault allegations. widely publicized sexual abuse by members of the junior basketball team. .

Kreth and Jamie Smith reported that an investigation continues into Kimball’s failure to contact the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline in a timely manner after learning of the allegations.

Arkansas law requires school administrators and teachers to immediately call the hotline if they suspect child abuse. “Kimball learned of the allegations in early February but declined to say when she called the hotline. Sources said she was not called until March,” the Record’s account said.

Kimball’s contract provides for a salary of $123,933 for 245 days, a cell phone, dues for memberships in professional organizations, travel to and from meetings and use of a vehicle for business and personal purposes. , as well as all expenses incurred for the district vehicle. .

The Record story noted that currently, Kimball is certified as a building-level administrator, the equivalent of a superintendent, rather than a superintendent. However, the Arkansas Department of Education has granted an Alternate Learning Plan (APL) waiver, which allows him to serve as a superintendent. Kimball earned an ALP on January 2, 2020, and renewals in August 2020 and August 2021. State law requires that she complete her certification hours within three years, by January 2, 2023.

My hope for the good people of Madison County after months of turmoil is that they finally resolve their school district’s issues that are making headlines by the start of the next school year, and that Kreth continues to serve. as a resolute and effective watchdog for his community, as the staff of a newspaper in every city should.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, served as editor of three Arkansas daily newspapers, and directed the Ohio State University’s Masters of Journalism program. Email him at [email protected]


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