Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Watchdog sues School District over public records requests

Monroe County School District watchdog Larry Murray has personally filed suit against the district, alleging that Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter has ignored his multiple requests for public records, dating back to mid-August.

The suit, filed Monday in Monroe County Circuit Court, alleges that the Monroe County Board of School Directors, and Porter, have stonewalled Murray's numerous efforts to examine documents related to a forensic audit of the Horace O'Bryant School construction project, as well as information regarding salary supplements paid to Poinciana Elementary School Principal (and District Director of Assessment and Accountability) Christina McPherson.

According to the suit, "none of the requested information is legally exempt from production, and since no exemption has been claimed by the defendants, if said exemption should exist it has been waived ... it is believed and therefore averred that the failure to produce these readily available requested records is in bad faith and an effort by the defendants to prevent public review of the requested documents. The defendants have and will continue to violate the Florida Records Law without court supervision."

As damages, Murray's suit seeks the requested documents be provided to him within 48 hours, and the School District institute a procedure to "whereby the Superintendent will comply with the mandates of the Florida Sunshine Law."

Alternatively, the suit "requests the issuance of a mandatory injunction against the defendant requiring them to immediately acknowledge the plaintiff's and other members of the public's records requests and comply in good faith."

Murray also wants his legal fees paid, which he estimates are about $500.

"While this is the first time that I have sued the MCSD, it is by no means the first time that I have had difficulty obtaining compliance with public records requests," Murray said in an email blast accompanying the suit. "Getting Superintendent Mark Porter to provide the requested documents has always been a struggle, despite the fact that I copy School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths, and District Counsel, Dirk Smits to keep them informed. When Superintendent Porter has complied, it is invariably after repeated requests."

Murray, who lives on Big Pine Key, has had public records issues with the district -- and Porter, in particular -- for nearly a year.

On Oct. 17, Murray sent Porter a request for documents related the to district's now-defunct tipster hotline. It was only after the threat of a lawsuit by Murray's then-attorney Dennis Ward that the documents were turned over.

Reached for comment on Tuesday, Porter, who is himself a lawyer, claimed that he had yet to review the suit. However, he asserted that the district was doing its best to keep up with Murray's multiple requests for information. The district does not employ a full-time file clerk.

"I've not seen the lawsuit in an official capacity, but I do know that numerous requests have been submitted by Mr. Murray," Porter said. "We have tried to reply in a timely fashion, but we will certainly review those requests, and comply with them as soon as possible."

Asked about district policy for dealing with such requests, Porter pronounced himself "unsatisfied" with the current state of affairs. He stopped short, however, of endorsing the idea of a full-time hire to assist in the process.

"I would find it to be somewhat regrettable to have to try to find those kind of resources to process those requests," he said. "Hopefully, we can find a more cost-conscious solution."

As of Tuesday evening, Murray was waiting to hear back from Circuit Court Judge David Audlin regarding a preliminary hearing date.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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