Citizen requests school district form policy process

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By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn |

NICEVILLE — A Fort Walton Beach resident wants the Okaloosa County School Board to develop a process on the formation of new policies and procedures.

During the public comments section of Monday’s School Board meeting, Gene Earley asked the members to develop a standardized process after he said he found faults in multiple policy drafts in recent months.

“You would think after all of this time, trial and error, statutory reviews of the laws and the process over all of the state that our Shool District could hit a home run writing policy,” Earley said. “School Board members, it’s your job to set the standard and keep the district accountable. You decide, through your vote, your requirements and your actions if the Okaloosa County School District is in the major leagues or bush leagues for our policies and procedures.”

Earley has become a familiar face at School Board meetings. He recently sat down with the School District and School Board attorney Jeff McInnis to suggest changes to a policy draft regarding public records requests. Earley said the policy proposal was riddled with imprecise legal language and the legality of some parts of the proposal.

One of the issues in the draft policy was that it stated multiple public records requests made by one individual could be considered as one request. This, under a new policy, would allow for extensive use charges being applied after the first 15 minutes of staff resource time.

Earley said he could not find any statutes that “remotely gives” the School District the statutory authority or ability to combine separate and individually submitted records requests.

“As you’ve seen what is submitted by the district, personally, I think it’s a substandard effort,” Earley told board members.

Earley also filed a formal complaint in December against former School District spokesman Henry Kelley, alleging Kelley had improperly released records exempt from public scrutiny to a television reporter.

He filed yet another complaint against School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, stating he believed she committed nearly 20 violations of state law and/or Florida Department of Education policies. That complaint said Kelley and former Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith were compliant with Jackson in some of the law and policy violations.

In response to Earley’s request Monday, School Board member Rodney Walker requested a “common sense proposal.” Walker said the attorney, superintendent, staff and whomever else is concerned with the policy should all meet and discuss the policy until all are satisfied with its language. Then, it should be brought before the School Board to be approved for advertisement, a public hearing and, ultimately, a vote.

“Whenever we write one of these policies, there seems to be something that’s not kosher,” Walker said. “Surely, by the time you work it out — individuals can point out what’s wrong and what’s illegal — you can come out of there where everybody can be satisfied and we complied to what the (Florida) statutes are.”

School Board member Melissa Thrush then asked McInnis to explain how policies are constructed.

“You (Walker) mentioned the word ‘illegal’ and I guess I would want to understand from Mr. McInnis if we’re paying him for legal services to let us know if he has drafted a policy that is illegal, because when I would have some concerns with his abilities to service as our School Board attorney.”

In an explanation that lasted more than 12 minutes, McInnis said the policies were not illegal — but some of Earley’s concerns were addressed. McInnis said the public does have the ability to voice their concerns about any policy, which is the purpose of public hearings.

Thrush seemed satisfied with McInnis’ explanation.

“I guess I just wanted you to state the process because Mr. Walker mentioned some of his concerns that we weren’t including public input as part of the process,” Thrush said. “We have to start somewhere. We have to have district staff do research, meet with you (McInnis) and have you do additional research, come to an agreement so that the public can look at it, review it and make requests for changes.”

No action was taken on Earley’s requests. The public records policy is currently being advertised and, after 28 days, the School Board will schedule a public hearing.

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