Three years after being sued by a Joelton resident for an open records policy that did not recognize email as a valid form of communication for making requests, the Sumner County Board of Education voted Tuesday to accept records requests via email.
The decision had little to do with the lawsuit, however, and was more about complying with a new state law that goes into effect July 1.
House Bill 58, proposed by 45th District State Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on April 28. The law amends the Tennessee Public Records Act by requiring a governmental body that uses email during its regular course of business to also accept records requests via email. The measure received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.
Rogers said she proposed the bill, in part because of the Sumner County Board of Education lawsuit.
Open records advocate Ken Jakes sued the school district in Sumner County Chancery Court in April 2014. Jakes' request to view the district's policy on public records was denied because he made his request through email and voicemail rather than in person or by U.S. Postal Service, per the district's policy.
Judge Dee David Gay ruled in November 2015 that the district violated the Tennessee Public Records Act by denying Jakes' request, and ordered the district to enact a new policy. School board members voted unanimously to appeal Gay's ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit is still pending before that court, who heard oral arguments in the case April 12.
On Tuesday, School Board members entered into an executive session with the attorneys representing them in the Jakes case and returned less than 10 minutes later without comment.
The board voted later during the meeting to revise the school district's public records policy. The vote was unanimous and was without discussion. Members also voted to waive a second reading of the policy. Unlike other policies that come before the board for review, the policy was not discussed during a recent study session.
School board members have declined to comment on the policy due to the lawsuit.
The school district had spent $238,000 in legal fees in the case through Nov. 1, 2016. An additional $9,000 was spent on legal bills in 2017, according to invoices supplied by the school system through an open records request.
Citizens may now make an open records request by emailing Board and Community Relations Supervisor Jeremy Johnson at Public.firstname.lastname@example.org.