School System Will Provide Public Records On Monday Preventing Lawsuit

Johnston County Schools announced Saturday night they have completed a Public Records Request from a local lawyer and those records will be available for inspection on Monday.

On Friday, attorney Jack O’Hale of Smithfield wrote a letter to interim Superintendent Dr. Ben Williams demanding a Jan. 2, 2020 public records request made on behalf of his client, school board candidate Kay Carroll, be completed by Monday, Jan. 27th or he would file a lawsuit against Johnston County Schools and the Johnston County Board of Education. O’Hale had previously requested the records be made available no later than January 21st but they were not.

O’Hale and Carroll are seeking a number of public documents including board minutes and the reason for the 2010 transfer of $16 million from Johnston County Schools to Johnston County Commissioners; records on Cenergistic including financial documents, contracts, and payments; copies of all end-of-year financial audits since 2009; budgets adopted by the school board since 2016; details on the FRECKLES educational program;  and emails and correspondence authorizing principals of each school to deviate from board policy regarding curriculum and instruction.

Chief of Staff and Communications for Johnston County Schools Dolores Gill said Saturday evening the records request was completed on Friday. Gill said a message was left for Mr. O’Hale stating the records could be reviewed as early as Monday morning or at a time conducive for his schedule.

Gill also released a statement Saturday evening to JoCoReport. The statement is also posted on the JCS website:

As the leader of the Public Information Office, it is my responsibility to provide the best possible communication within the school system and to stakeholders. With 28 years of experience as a teacher, principal, and district leader, Johnston County Public Schools is more than a job to me. This school system is a place where I am proud to work alongside more than 5,000 employees. Our teachers and staff are committed to do their best to teach and care for the children and young adults in our community.

During this time of transition within our school system, providing information to the staff and community is serious and important. Specifically, a story was written regarding a public records request which is extensive and voluminous in nature. The school board attorney responded to the request in writing, and sought additional clarifications regarding the request.

Our office responds to public records requests utilizing the statute which defines the law as detailed in North Carolina General Statutes. NCGS 132-6(a) states “every custodian of public records shall permit any record in the custodians custody to be inspected and examined at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law.”

In other words, the law does not set a specific timeframe to fulfill a public records request. The timeliness of supplying the records requested is based upon factors such as: the volume of the request, the available personnel to compile the information, and available resources. Additionally, JCPS relies upon the research from the UNC School of Government to assist our office in the application of this law.

Our office has received 47 public records requests since July 2019, with 19 of these requested since December 2019. Often these requests include multiple records within one request. The records themselves can be documents from several departments, as well as, emails, texts, or other communications which must be compiled and reviewed before their release. We take these requests seriously and seek to fulfill them as promptly as possible.

While we work to fulfill all requests as promptly as possible, since December 2019 the influx of records request has dramatically impacted the number of hours needed to fulfill those requests.

JoCoReport reached out to School Board Chairman Todd Sutton on Friday for a comment on Mr. Hale’s letter and the possible lawsuit. As of Saturday night, Mr. Sutton has still not issued a statement on the matter.