Florida Keys News
Thursday, November 14, 2013
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Watchdog holds First Amendment fandango

Schools watchdog Larry Murray has kept the district on its toes lately with his public records requests, and critical comments at board meetings.

He was in friendlier territory on Wednesday evening however, at the "First Amendment Rally" he organized with former district Chief Operating Officer Michael Kinneer, at Sippin' on Eaton Street.

The meeting, which had been announced in The Citizen on Tuesday, attracted a dozen individuals, most of whom have some connection to the media, including a number of writers and columnists for weekly newspapers.

The gathering was held, according to Murray, to provide a forum for citizens concerned with school district policies relating to the availability, and cost, of making public records requests.

Murray stressed that he was not campaigning for money, but did concede at one point that "maybe we should create a slush fund that anyone could tap" to offset the high cost of making said requests.

"I'm not on a witch hunt," Murray insisted.

Murray last year ran for the District 3 school board seat, but was defeated by Ed Davidson. Though he has no children in the district, he has maintained an interest in its functioning, even going so far as to invite Superintendent Mark Porter to lunch upon his arrival in the Keys.

However, Murray said. "Superintendent Porter has never reached out to me on anything."

"I don't understand why they would prefer fighting and arguing," Murray said.

The Big Pine Key resident pointed out that most of his records requests have been "pretty limited" in scope, and are available electronically, which should make them fairly easy to respond to.

Instead, he said, he had been forced to file suit against the district and Porter, in a case he ended up losing earlier this fall. He also filed a complaint with the state Department of Education, which was sent back to board Chairman Andy Griffiths to deal with, another move Murray has been critical of.

In the course of making his 34 requests to the district, Murray also said he faced obstacles ranging from a lengthy list of exempted records, as well as a bill for $4,000 for the copying services that he has contested.

Murray worried aloud that allowing the district to get away with charging any more than a "reasonable fee" for the service, could have a "chilling" effect on future requests.

Audit and Finance Committee member Stuart Kessler, who attended the rally, suggested that a lot of the information Murray had been requesting should have been already made available by the district, in its meeting agendas.

"He shouldn't have had to make [the requests] in the first place," Kessler said.

One thing is for sure, Murray said, is that he's not done keeping the district on its toes.

"I'm in it for the long haul," he said.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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