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Lusher Charter School drags feet on public-records requests

The Lens has reviewed thousands of pages of emails in which Lusher Charter School board members discussed a teachers’ union drive this spring. But we’ve engaged in a bit of a cat-and-mouse game to get them.

After three months, we haven’t received emails from all the board members or CEO Kathy Riedlinger, although several have said they’ve sent them to the board’s attorney for review.

These emails, like most government documents, are considered public records, available for any adult to review upon request.

We started by asking Riedlinger for emails sent from April 2 to May 9 among board members and six administrators.

Attorney Angelina Christina of McGlinchey Stafford responded that Riedlinger is not the custodian of board members’ emails. She also said our request was so broad that “the appropriate persons cannot be sure that the records they compile in response will include all responsive records.”

So we asked Riedlinger just for messages between her and board members, and we later asked the board members to provide their emails themselves.

The state Public Records Law generally requires government agencies to provide records immediately, or within three days if the record is in use.

They can take more time to provide them if there’s reason to believe some of the records aren’t public, but they have to respond within three days to say so, cite the law that would exclude them and provide a timetable for when the remainder will be available. Christina, however, told The Lens she couldn’t do that because she couldn’t anticipate what exceptions would apply.

Board President Blaine LeCesne provided his messages within three days.

About six weeks later, Christina provided emails from board member Alysia Loshbaugh. The next week, she sent Chunlin Leonhard’s. They total about 2,800 pages.

Both sets of messages were redacted, particularly Leonhard’s.

All but one of the other eight current and former board members have not responded or said they forwarded their messages to lawyers to review. The last board member, Carol Whelan, said she had not emailed any other board members individually, so any message she had sent or received would be included in the ones that LeCesne provided.

Christina told The Lens that her firm would not provide emails for the rest of the board because it’s overly burdensome and they would duplicate what has already been provided. Lens attorney Scott Sternberg has disputed that, noting that emails sent between individual members would have to be produced by one of those people.

The Lens also asked board Secretary Rachel Wisdom for the engagement letter with attorney Mag Bickford, who is representing Lusher in the labor issue. Christina initially denied the request, stating Wisdom didn’t have it.

State law says public officials must direct the requester to the person who does have the record, but that didn’t happen.

Christina later said the letter was protected by attorney-client privilege. Lens reporter Marta Jewson disagreed, arguing that the letter amounts to a contract between the board and its lawyer.

“Where did she get her law degree?” Bickford responded by email to The Lens, apparently in error.

Two weeks later, the firm produced a heavily redacted engagement letter. It doesn’t say how, or how much, the lawyers are being paid.

Christina said reviewing and redacting Loshbaugh’s emails alone cost approximately $3,000 in attorney’s fees.

You can read everything we received below. Below the list of documents, we’ve embedded several sets of emails with highlight of important exchanges. (Click the “notes” tab to review the highlighted portions.) Be aware that many messages are included multiple times due to threaded replies.

In the spirit of cooperation, we have redacted some cell phone numbers and other portions that, although they’re part of the public record, aren’t germane to board business.

Staff writers Charles Maldonado and Sarah Gamard contributed to this story.

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