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Judge to review D55 files

December 1, 2012

Morning News — Leslie Mielke Speaking with prosecuting attorney before the show cause hearing started are Blackfoot School District attorney Dale Storer (left) and Blackfoot School District Interim Superintendent Chad Struhs.

BLACKFOOT — Following an hour-long presentation on Friday, District Judge David Nye took the case of Joyce Bingham vs. Blackfoot School District 55 under advisement.
Bingham brought suit against the school district because they refused to explain a large payment which she found when she examined its budget.
"As I looked on the website at the district's published budget, I noticed the first listed expense in July was $105,428 for a contracted service," said Bingham. "Checking back to January, any other contracted services were usually paid on payday which is around the 20th of each month.
"The school district really forced me to hire an attorney," said Bingham. "They told me if I would like to pursue this case, I would need to file papers in district court.
"There are times when I wish I had left sleeping dogs lie but this is too big," Bingham said.
Bingham is a retired Blackfoot High School teacher.
Attorney Jared Harris represented Bingham. The other party that was added to this case was The Post Register, represented by Steven Wright. Blackfoot School District 55 was represented by Dale Storer.
Boiled down, the issue is: the plaintiffs want to see the records that provide $105,428 for contracted services and the school district is seeking clarification about what constitutes a personnel issue.
"I don't think there is any question that these are not public records," Harris said. "All public records are available to the public."
Harris gave a brief overview of the exhibits presented by the plaintiff in this case.
"Exhibit G is the minutes of the executive session for the [stated] purposes of hiring someone," Harris said. "This was an agreement between the [Blackfoot School] Board and employee B-2012.
"Later, we discovered employee B-2012 was Dr. [Scott] Crane," Harris said.
Crane was superintendent of the Blackfoot School District during the April meeting.
"The district didn't hire Zions Bank for $105,000 plus for contracted services," Harris said. "The public has the right to know where money is going for contracted payments.
"The school district did not disclose [Crane's] parting contract," the attorney said. "We don't know the purpose or terms of the April 24 meeting.
"The school district protected—hid—did not disclose this contracted service," he said.
"Mrs. Bingham has a right to know where the money is going and why," Harris said. "If it's a contract, we are entitled to it."
Post Register attorney Wright said, "We are here because we don't know what we don't know; we are arguing somewhat in a vacuum.
"If the court determines that part of the record should be exempt, … we are asking that the record be redacted, not denied," Wright said.
According to the board minutes of the April meeting, the executive session lasted eight minutes, said Wright. After this session, board members returned to open session and approved what was worked out in the executive session. Crane than announced his retirement.
Negotiation and preparation had to happen somewhere else before this information was presented in open session, Wright said.
"[The district] is going to great effort to hide this," Wright said. "Possibly [the board] was concerned about the possible ramifications if the public finds out about it."
"Whether the motives are insidious or not, the public is entitled to know what their public officials did," Wright said.
"I can't make a ruling with seeing [these records]," said Judge Nye to Storer.
"This is straightforward," Storer said. "Is this or is this not a public record?
"All personnel records are exempt from disclosure," Storer said.
Citing Idaho law, he said, "[Personnel records] shall not be disclosed to the public without the oral or written consent of the person.
"Is hé [Crane] a public official or public employee?" asked Storer.
Blackfoot School District Interim Superintendent Chad Struhs wrote in an affidavit filed Nov. 26, "I contacted Dr. Crane and urged him to allow the District to release the requested agreement [but] Dr. Crane declined to do so."
Storer said the district was "between a rock and a hard spot." The school district is looking for clarification about what constitutes a personnel issue.
"I take issue that people are saying the district is hiding something," he said.
Wright said, "They wouldn't be between a rock and a hard spot if they wouldn't have created it themselves."
"I think they are trying to protect themselves from Dr. Crane," said Judge Nye.
After the hearing, Storer gave the judge the sought-after records.
"I was hoping to make a ruling today," said Judge Nye. "These records will remain sealed in my file; only me or my law clerk will view them until I have made a decision."
The judge has up to 28 days to make a decision.

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