Lehighton seeks help dealing with fallout from right-to-know requests made by Bradley
Lehighton Area School District has tabbed a Bethlehem law firm as special counsel to deal with legal matters stemming from Right To Know requests from one of its board members.
By a 5-4 vote Monday, Lehighton’s board appointed King, Spry, Herman, Freund and Faul LLC at an hourly rate of $165 with invoices to be presented on a monthly basis.
According to the resolution provided by the district, the firm’s duties include “research of potential sources of relief from (David) Bradley’s actions, communication with district solicitor William Schwab and the board regarding legal options, and representation of the district in legal proceedings as authorized by the board.”
In August, the district appealed a decision by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records directing the release of more than 7,700 emails of Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver and several high school administrators. Bradley, a school board director ending his first year in office, sought the emails.
Bradley is part of several other lawsuits against the district, claiming in part that it violated the Sunshine Act and alleging it failed to allow people to speak at public meetings.
Before the vote Monday night to hire the firm, Bradley said the district was on a witch hunt.
“It looks like certain people on this board are using their individual authority to create a witch hunt on those of us trying to make this district comply with law,” Bradley said.
Cleaver said the emails requested by Bradley were denied because compliance would have required violations of other laws including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Eric Filer, an attorney with William Schwab and Associates, the firm that normally represents the district, said Monday’s motion to appoint special counsel was specifically to deal with items concerning Bradley and no other residents.
“Bradley has repeatedly contested, without merit, the district’s response to his request for records,” the resolution approved Monday read.
One of the directors who voted for the appointment of special counsel, Rita Spinelli, said one of the reasons Bradley doesn’t get information is “because he can’t be trusted.”
“There is a big difference between transparency and tabloid sensationalism,” Spinelli said. “People value their right to privacy and do not want things becoming Facebook fodder.”
Director Joy Beers said she voted against using the firm for this matter, saying it opens the district up for litigation based on misappropriation of funds.
Bradley said while he’s all for personal privacy, he doesn’t support privacy from governmental agencies such as a school district.
“The government that oversees this administration should be able to have access to information without having to file an RTK,” Bradley said. “How much we spend on things like the solicitor or on credit cards is being cast aside and hidden and obstructed by the administration.”
Bradley said he thinks the district could save “hundreds of thousands of dollars by not funneling RTK requests through the solicitor’s office.”
During his superintendent report Monday, Cleaver said Bradley again requested his emails, 608 pages of information covering just half a month.
“The past email request via RTK for several of our administrative staff emails has already cost this district over $6,000,” Cleaver said. “The security tape request from Mr. Bradley and (Barbara) Bowes has cost this district over $3,500. Then we have an additional amount of over $2,500 the district has in other requests from Mr. Bradley over the past three months.”
The request for security tape from a board meeting was denied by the district and upheld by the Office of Open Records. Since the district now has two school police officers, it is now considered a law enforcement agency by legislative statute and does not have to release security tapes filmed in its facilities.
According to Cleaver, Bradley responded to the Office of Open Records attorney and used the phrases, “I am framing this one. Made my day.”
“It is unfortunate,” Cleaver said, “that taking up valuable staff time and costing the district thousands of dollars in unbudgeted money seems to be a joke for some individuals.”
Meanwhile, Bradley said the district continues to use its solicitor’s office as “a clearinghouse for district funds to exploit the RTK law.”
“This is the most obstructive board inside of the state that I have found,” Bradley said. “It is because of the policies this district has adopted. Fighting me does not make financial sense.”