October 4, 1993
IN RE: Jacqueline Knotts/Shelby County Public Schools
OPEN RECORDS DECISION
This appeal originated in a request for records submitted by Ms. Jacqueline Knotts to the Shelby County Public Schools on June 14, 1993. Ms. Knotts asked that she be permitted to inspect and copy "the monthly phone bills, of the second phone line to the private address of the superintendent . . . dated from June 1988, through June 1993." On behalf of the Shelby County Public Schools, Superintendent Leon Mooneyhan responded to Ms. Knotts' request on June 15, advising her:
The records that are available pursuant to your request are available to be inspected at this office during regular office hours which are 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please see the receptionist for this information. If you wish copies of this information, they can be made for you at a cost of $0.10 per copy.
Please note that certain parts of the information you have requested are not available because the information does not exist.
On June 22, 1993, Ms. Knotts went to the Superintendent's office to review the requested records. She requested copies of the telephone bills for the period from June, 1988 through June, 1993. These facts are not in dispute. At this point in the narrative, however, the parties' accounts of what transpired diverge.
Ms. Knotts maintains that she was threatened and subjected to harassment in the course of reviewing the telephone records. It was these conditions, she asserts, which prompted her to request copies of the records. On June 25, she returned to the office, and was advised that copies had been made of the telephone bills for 1988-1989 and 1989-1990. She was given these records along with a receipt. Ms. Knotts again returned to the office on June 29 and was given the telephone bills for 1991-1992 along with a receipt. Upon inspection of the records, she states that she discovered that several months' bills were missing. She notified the Superintendent's office of this fact on July 2, and asked that arrangements be made for her to obtain the missing records.
On July 9, Ms. Knotts received a letter from Superintendent Mooneyhan in which he advised her that she had been afforded access to all of the requested records. Nevertheless, on August 6, she went to his office in an attempt to review the records she had not yet received. According to Ms. Knotts, the Superintendent told her that she had already been provided with copies of all existing records, and that she could "sit there in the office all day but the records would not be made available." He further advised her that she would have to resubmit her request since the records had been "put away." On this occasion, she noted that the Superintendent's office had not posted a copy of its open records rules and regulations, as required by KRS 61.876.
In response to a request from this Office for additional information pursuant to KRS 61.880(2), Dr. Mooneyhan provided us with a factual account which sharply differs from Ms. Knotts' account. He explained:
When Ms. Knotts came to this office on June 22, 1993, the information she requested was made available to her in fiscal year increments for the period of time she requested, June 1988, through June of 1993. Ms. Knotts examined a portion of the documents for approximately one and one half hours and then requested that copies be made of all of the telephone bills for the period of time indicated above. We agreed to this request but indicated that it would take some time to make this volume of copies. At no time during this visit was Ms. Knotts "harassed, threatened, made to feel
uncomfortable or treated in a hostile matter", as she alleges . . . . It is interesting to note that Ms. Knotts' allegations of harassment and intimidation are only in broad terms, with no specifics.
Dr. Mooneyhan states that Ms. Knotts was provided with copies of the telephone bills for the 1988-1989 and the 1989-1990 school years on June 25, and the telephone bills for the 1991-1992 school year on June 29, totalling some 2,141 pages.
On the second date, Ms. Knotts tendered a copy of her original request with a handwritten notation indicating that this was a "second request." Dr. Mooneyhan responded on June 30, advising her that the remaining copies would be provided to her no later than July 15. He explained the technical difficulties of copying the bills. He reiterated that the information which had been furnished to her "show[ed] the charges for all of the lines for which the Board pays including any charges for installation of lines." Dr. Mooneyhan reminded her that he could not afford her access to records which do not exist.
On July 6, Dr. Mooneyhan received a third copy of Ms. Knotts' original request styled "third request." He responded on July 9, again advising her that she had been given access to telephone bills showing the charges for all of the telephone lines for which the Board pays. He asked Ms. Knotts to verify in writing a telephone call to his office in which she stated that she did not wish to receive copies of the bills for the 1990-1991 and 1992-1993 school years. She did not respond to this request, but returned to his office on August 6, after the telephone bills had been refiled. Dr. Mooneyhan explained that the records were not immediately accessible, but expressed his willingness to again retrieve the records and make them available within two working days. Ms. Knotts was dissatisfied with this response and did not take this opportunity to arrange a new date and time to inspect the records. In closing, he notes that the bills have been retrieved and that his office is awaiting word from Ms. Knotts. He asks that she inform him of the date and time she wishes to inspect the records.
Explaining the apparent discrepancies in the records requested and the records received, Dr. Mooneyhan observes:
Ms. Knotts . . . attempts to confuse the issue concerning what copies she received on
June 29, 1993 when she states in the last paragraph, '. . . I returned and was informed I was paying for and receiving all years 1991-1992'. Both my June 30, 1993 letter and the receipt that she received on that date show she was receiving the telephone bills for school year 1991-1992, not multiple years.
Ms. Knotts . . . states the months for which she has not received copies which represent school years 1990-91 and 1992-93. While I agree that she has not received these copies, I would strongly maintain that we did not represent to her that she had received copies for these years and that we were prepared to make the copies of these years' bills had she not called and stated otherwise.
We are asked to determine whether the Shelby County Public Schools violated the Open Records Act in its handling of Ms. Knotts' requests for telephone bills. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that Dr. Mooneyhan and his staff have made every effort to comply with her requests, as evidenced in the letters and receipts with which the Superintendent has provided us, and that any lingering dispute which exists between the parties, whether it arose through miscommunication or intentional deceit, cannot be resolved by this Office.
KRS 61.880(1) sets forth procedural guidelines for agency response to an open records request. That statute provides:
Each public agency, upon any request for records made under KRS 61.870 to 61.884, shall determine within three (3) days, excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, after the receipt of any such request whether to comply with the request and shall notify in writing the person making the request, within the three (3) day period, of its decision. An agency response denying, in whole or in part, inspection of any record shall include a statement of the specific exception authorizing the withholding of the record and a brief
explanation of how the exception applies to the record withheld. The response shall be issued by the official custodian or under his authority, and it shall constitute final agency action.
Upon receipt of each of her requests, Dr. Mooneyhan responded to Ms. Knotts in writing and within three business days. He advised her on each occasion that the records would be made available for inspection and copying. He has since expressed his willingness to again make the records available to her. In our view, he has cooperated fully with Ms. Knotts in her efforts to gain access to the school system's phone bills. If, as Ms. Knotts maintains, the Shelby County Public Schools has failed to post its rules and regulations governing records access in a prominent place, as required by KRS 61.876, it should immediately take steps to rectify this procedural violation of the Open Records Act. We cannot otherwise find fault with the School System's handling of Ms. Knotts' requests.
We decline to be drawn into the fray. As we noted in 93-ORD-99:
[I]n rendering a decision under the Open Records Law, the Attorney General is not concerned with 'heroes and villians.' Our review is limited to the legal and factual issues with which we are presented. Our decision reflects a reasoned and objective resolution of these issues. It is our statutory duty to enforce the rights and obligations of the parties in an open records dispute, not to malign or praise those parties.
We urge the parties to this appeal to work in a spirit of cooperation toward an amiable resolution of their differences.
Ms. Knotts and the Shelby County Public Schools may challenge this decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court pursuant to KRS 61.880(5) and KRS 61.882. Although the Attorney General should be notified of any actions filed against the Shelby County Public Schools pursuant to KRS
61.880(3), the Attorney General should not be named as a party to the action or in any subsequent proceedings.
AMYE B. MAJORS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Dr. Leon Mooneyhan
Superintendent of Schools
Shelby County Schools
P. O. Box 159
Shelbyville, KY 40065
Ms. Jacqueline Knotts
108 First Street
Simpsonville, KY 40067