SEBRING SAGA: Judge Rules Meeting Violated Law

A ruling was reached Friday on the closed door meeting that led the early resignation of former Des Moines School Superintendent Nancy Sebring.

The Des Moines School Board held a closed-door meeting on May 12th of last year to discuss sexually-charged emails Sebring sent using her school e-mail account.

The school board said the closed door meeting was needed because the issue was a personal matter – something that is protected under Iowa’s open records law.

graham gilletteFormer Des Moines School Board member Graham Gillette filed a lawsuit alleging the personal matter wasn’t the only thing discussed.

“I think there is a pattern of behavior with this particular school board if not walking a fine line, possibly breaking the law when it comes to open records and open meetings,” says Gillette.

After reviewing a video recording and transcript of the meeting, Polk County Judge Karen Romano ruled portions of the meeting did violate Iowa’s open records law.

The ruling states, “The (Des Moines school) board is directed to provide an appropriately redacted copy of the minutes and recording to the petitioner in accordance with this ruling within ten days.”

ACLU Legal Director Randall Wilson is representing Gillette in his lawsuit and says even though the Judge ruled portions of the meeting must be released they will only be released to Gillette, at least for now.

“The plaintiff gets to look at the materials and use them in the trial over whether or not the meeting laws were violated,” says Wilson.

However, Wilson says with the Judge’s current ruling he hopes the two parties can settle out of court and believes the documents will eventually be made public.

“The fact that the Judge is releasing the records to us rather indicates that these parts of the records should be made open,” says Wilson.

Gillett says this is a good first step, but says there is a bigger issue with the law itself.

He hopes to see changes in Iowa’s Open Records Law and set an example of what can and cannot be discussed behind closed doors.

“The school board, every school board, every public body in this state needs to know there are very limited reasons when they can go behind closed doors and they need to stick to those reasons. The public`s business needs to be conducted in public,” says Gillette.

The Des Moines School Board has 10 days to provided both a transcript and audio copy to Gillette.

The transcript will only include the information that the Judge found violated the Iowa Open Records Law.

Sebring Lawsuit

The Des Moines district and board members face another lawsuit tied to Nancy Sebring’s resignation, the one filed by Sebring herself.

It names the district, board member Teree-Caldwell Johnson, District Attorney Patricia Lantz and Communications Director Phil Roeder.

Sebring claims they conspired to wrongfully released “purely personal” e-mails to the Des Moines Register.

She claims the defendants also leaked the story to the Omaha World Herald forcing her to resign from her new job there.

Sebring is asking for lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering.