Hammond School Board says they will not release documents showing how they decided to award nearly $6M in contracts to Skilman Corp. and Schmidt Architects
August 21, 2018-At a meeting of the School City of Hammond Board of Trustees, Board President Deborah White referred a request to release information to Board Attorneys. At issue was correspondence that outlined the reasons that staff awarded approximately $6M in no bid contracts to Skillman Corp. and Schmidt Architects for the construction of a new high school. Documents provided in response to a public record request were redacted pursuant to the Indiana Public Records Act which permit a Board to exercise discretion in releasing information which is considered “deliberative.” The Board Attorney redacted the information explaining:
. . .4 pages were partially redacted because they contained opinions communicated for the purpose of decision making. This is directly within the purview deliberative material and will not be unredacted and reproduced. E-Mail correspondence from Board Attorney Emma Jay
What the Board refused to address is the fact that the documents may be released by the Board despite the exception. The law provides an exception which may protect them from releasing the records but does not prohibit them from doing so. Transparency requires that they release them and this is particularly true when the contracts were awarded without bids.
In fact, the Public Access Counselor has suggested that the deliberative materials exception may not be applicable after a decision has been made:
. . .it is difficult to understand how a public agency maintains discretion to withhold a record under the deliberative materials exception when there is some indication that the agency has made the decision that the report was created to assist the agency in making. Still, the deliberative materials exception does not provide a distinction between pre-decision and post-decision, so that the records may be withheld even after a decision has been made
Regardless, a public agency should be judicious in invoking the deliberative materials exception, even more so, if a final decision has been made on the issue addressed in public record that has been withheld as deliberative.
It appears that Trustee White did not even understand the process as she referred the matter back to the attorney who just stated, clearly and unequivocally, that they would not be released. The request was that they override the Attorney decision as they are the elected officials responsible to the voters. There is no exercise in judiciousness because the School City of Hammond has a Board comprised of individuals who would like to spend no more than 20 minutes at a meeting and are very likely a little too dim to understand the issues on which they are tasked to vote. Thus all decisions are passed along to staff, attorneys and others.
To make matters worse, these are the very no bid contracts that the Board approved via the use of a consent agenda. There was no discussion and no information provided to the public regarding the contracts. The cost of the contracts was only obtained by the Gazette after a public record request and a lengthy delay.
The redacted copies of documents are below. We would like to hear your comments regarding the Board withholding the information related to how these companies were chosen for these contracts.