Tracy Pack just wanted to see how the Rutherford County Board of Education was spending money, so he requested copies of checks from a principal at Homer Pittard Campus School.
When the records were not produced, he asked for the emails of the principal. He was told that they never existed and that they were private, even the ones produced on school computers.
But a judge found differently and, in the process, it appears that a board attorney was lying to the public about access to public records.
Pack was told repeatedly that such files never existed or were deleted and that such emails were private, but Chancellor Robert Corlew III disagreed and laid out a process by which the documents would be discovered and given to Pack, under court authority with the help of a computer forensics expert.
Documents given to Pack as part of that process were actually used by his attorney Wednesday as evidence of the Board’s attempts to conceal public records and frustrate the process.
“I am not sending the contents of the Madden Pack files at this point,” read an email from board Attorney Angel McCloud to Bridgeman on Jan. 14, 2011, months after Pack had been told repeatedly that the files did not exist.
A file was attached to that email named “madden_pack.zip”, totaling more than 45 kilobytes of digital information.
McCloud later testified under oath on Jan. 25 that the files did not exist.
In addition to the documents, Pack was awarded attorney fees in the case. That's more than $31,000 that Rutherford County must pay out because public officials didn't follow the law — failure to follow sunshine provisions wasted taxpayer money.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government points out that this is the second time in as many months that attorney fees have been awarded because a government body was found to be unlawfully denying access to public information.