“We have 10 days, not including off days,” a curt voice from inside the Orangefield ISD administrative offices informed a reporter on the ninth day of waiting for records to be released after filing an open records request with the district. Despite the documents being in the office and the presence of a letter from the Orangefield ISD attorney’s office saying the documents would be provided, the employees of Orangefield ISD felt it necessary – and justifiable – to wait until that amount of time had elapsed to hand over public documents.
“We always use all our days,” district accounts payable employee Marla Blanke said, a statement underscored by a laugh and a few words of agreement from superintendent receptionist Marla Dubose. Both women said they were too busy to fill the request, and relayed information that interim superintendent Kay Karr couldn’t be reached Tuesday, April 10, since, “She’s behind closed doors.”
Blanke became angered when told she was being quoted in this article, and at one point tried to confiscate a paper and pen from the reporter seeking public information. On a side note, the duo’s logic in not handing over the documents isn’t exactly in the spirit of the Public Information Act, outlined in the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Public Information Handbook, Sec 552.221.
“Governmental body must either release requested public information promptly, or if not within ten days of receipt of request, its Public Information Officer (PIO) must certify fact that governmental body cannot produce the information within ten days and state date and hour within reasonable time when the information will be available,” the code reads.
Although 10 days is mentioned, “promptly” is asserted first and foremost as the deadline for releasing public information. Regardless, the documents were not released until April 11, ten business days after official notice was received from OISD requesting, among other things, the release of contracts made between the district and the interim superintendent, the superintendent and the athletic director.
The provided contract of Orangefield ISD athletic director Brian Huckabay wasn’t created until after the request for information was submitted to the district. A request for Huckabay’s contract was given to Orangefield ISD on March 27, and on March 28, the athletic director was given an new contract to sign. The new contract provided by the district is a two-page document that discloses little more than the date that it was returned to the superintendent’s office. It does not include Huckabay’s salary.
Superintendent Philip Welch’s contract with the district was provided, although Welch recently resigned his post with OISD. In his contract, Welch signed extensions yearly to keep his post up until June 30, 2014. He signed on with the district in January 2007, earning an $86,000 salary with $350 per month budgeted for travel expenses. By the end of his post at OISD, Welch was earning $113,400 annually, with $650 per month reimbursed for travel expenses.
Welch’s salary pales when compared to his replacement’s pay, however, according to the interim superintendent contract provided in response to the open records request. Interim Superintendent Kay Karr is being paid $680 per day, or more than $13,000 a month, without taxes being deducted from her pay. She has been earning that wage since March 6.
The newspaper requested the records from Orangefield ISD in March when Welch’s resignation was accepted by the board and board members contemplated terminating Huckabay’s contract. Parents had complained about Coach Huckabay’s disciplinary policies for student athletes and community members complained of the added expense of paying both Welch and Karr during this transition.