Fort Smith School Board Rejects Lawsuit Settlement

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

FORT SMITH (KFSM)- The Fort Smith school board has decided to not settle a lawsuit filed for an alleged violation of state law.

The lawsuit accuses the school board of violating the Freedom of Information Act.

"We didn't agree with the terms," board president Deanie Mehl said. "There were several things that we were not comfortable with. One was demands suggested that there was intent on our part, that we were aware that emails were violating the Freedom of Information Act and I think you could tell in that meeting, we were trying very hard to follow the regulations. We did not make a final vote. We included the emails in the working packet of the board meeting, so part of it was the question of intent."

The board also didn't agree with a part of the settlement that the board would not commit FOI violations in the future.

"It is tricky," Mehl said. "The fact that we were committing future boards that they would never violate Freedom of Information, obviously we are going to try very, very hard not to, but that was the sticking point."

Tax payers' dollars will be used to pay for the cost of the legal battle.

"It breaks my heart that we have to take it to this point," Mehl said. "The fact that when we're all done, it's going to be probably close to $90,000. I think of where that money could go district wide, rather than on this lawsuit."

Trial lawyer, Joey McCutchen filed the suit. He said the outcome of the trial would outweigh any money spent.

"If they follow the law, then there's no money that has to be spent," McCutchen said. "But, that's the red heron by many boards. When they violate transparency laws, they want to say it's costing taxpayers money, which it is. But, our republic is founded on laws of transparency."

McCutchen said he's pleased with the board's decision.

"We're excited to get this before a judge and let the judge make the decision," McCutchen said. "We feel confident that the judge will find there's a violation and order training and order the school board to not let this happen again."

The school board stands by its statement saying there was no final vote made or attempt to hide or be secretive with the emails being questioned in the lawsuit.

No trial date has been set yet.