Arlington School Board accused of secrecy

ARLINGTON — The nonprofit Center for Justice wants a judge to find the Arlington School District guilty of violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

The center, based in Spokane, filed a motion for summary judgment Monday in Snohomish County Superior Court arguing that the evidence supports the claim that the school board conducted study sessions and executive sessions without giving adequate public notice. The motion details 144 alleged violations of the meetings act from March 2006 to May 2008.

The center had filed a lawsuit against the district in spring 2008. Center officials now believe there’s enough evidence that sufficiently supports the charge against the district and that the matter doesn’t need to go to trial.

A court hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 19.

The school district continues to deny that the board ever broke the Open Public Meetings Act, Arlington School Board President Kay Duskin said.

The district’s lawyer in the case, Dave Hokit, said the school district is considering filing a motion for summary judgment against the Center for Justice this week.

“Their lawsuit makes claims that the district knows are incorrect,” Hokit said. “The idea that the school board held special meetings without letting people know is simply wrong.”

Washington’s government access laws were passed in the early 1970s. Essentially, the laws say that government meetings and documents must be open to taxpayer oversight, with some limitations that include personnel matters, pending litigation and matters that would affect a real estate price.

The Center for Justice studied jurisdictions across the state and filed suits against governments such as the city of Ridgefield, the Yelm Fire District and the Port of Longview.

Arlington school officials say there’s plenty of proof that the school board has not been routinely violating the meetings act.

Former school superintendent Linda Byrnes, now a candidate for Arlington City Council, said she first found out about the center’s lawsuit against the district when she was at a speaking engagement and a TV reporter asked her about the suit.

That is irritating, Hokit said, because previous to that, the district knew nothing about the center’s concerns. No one had heard of the Center for Justice until the lawsuit was filed, he said.

Lawyer Greg Overstreet, who represents the center, said the hope is that district policies will change, that fines will be paid and the Center for Justice will be reimbursed for its attorney fees and the investigative work it took to find the alleged violations of the meetings act.

“The school district has admitted to many facts that would lead one to a conclusion of a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act,” Overstreet said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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