Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board asks for better public access to documents

In the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school district, the school board has asked the administration to make public as many agenda-related documents as possible prior to board meetings.

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio — The Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board and administration will make public as many agenda-related documents as possible prior to board meetings.

That’s what the school board told the administration during the Oct. 22 board meeting, according to an audio recording of that meeting.

The subject came up because board member Fred Pedersen noticed that agenda-related support documents were no longer appearing on the district’s website, as they were before the schools recently converted to a new electronic-records system called BoardDocs.

The lack of public access concerned Pedersen, who attended an Oct. 9 Brecksville City Council meeting where residents expressed anger over what they believed was council’s lack of transparency.

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“We just went through a pretty bloody battle in the city of Brecksville over transparency and (non-)transparency,” Pedersen said. “The mayor (Jerry Hruby) and law director (David Matty) swear up and down that everything was transparent. Yet 300 and some people at the last (council) meeting didn’t think so.

“So I’m just concerned that (the school board) said in the past that we want to be really transparent, and I don’t think this is,” Pedersen said. “Because we switched to BoardDocs, all of a sudden we don’t have (documents) anymore on the agenda items. The public in the past here has been used to seeing that documentation, and now it’s only for us.”

Board member Mark Dosen said he didn’t notice that agenda-related documents weren’t making it to the district website because the schools had just converted to BoardDocs.

“I was assuming we would operate the same way as we did before BoardDocs, which is everything gets put out there unless there’s something that needs to be exempted,” Dosen said.

Dosen said that with BoardDocs, district officials can place documents in three files: public content, which everyone can see when checking the board agenda online; executive content, which the public doesn’t see because it’s executive session material; and administrative content, which according to schools Treasurer Jeff Hall contains “forms or other miscellaneous catch-all” material.

“Almost everything should go into public unless there’s a good reason to put it into administrative or executive,” Dosen said.

Pedersen agreed, saying that until now, most if not all of the documents had been placed in the executive file under BoardDocs.

Board President Kathleen Mack said administrative officials should be “more diligent” about placing documents in the public category.

Tree buddies

Emerald Data Solutions in Atlanta launched BoardDocs nationally in 2002, according to that company’s website. Local and county governments and school boards use the software to manage records electronically and eliminate paper.

“To date, more than 2,500 organizations have selected our technology to save money, reduce staff time, improve board effectiveness, increase transparency and help the environment,” the Emerald Data Solutions website says.

BoardDocs, designed specifically for public bodies, can help manage meeting agendas, record minutes and track progress on strategic plans, according to the company website.

Hall said the district started transitioning to BoardDocs in summer of 2018. The conversion was completed in time for the August board meeting.

“We’re cutting down on cost of paper, printing and recordkeeping by digitizing as much as possible,” Hall told cleveland.com in an email. “There was nothing wrong with the old system, except it required seven or more paper binders for each meeting, with all the necessary agenda items in paper format.”

Now, Hall said, school board members refer to documents on Chromebooks instead of binders during meetings.

Hall said BoardDocs costs the district $3,000 a year.

Public access

Hall said the district by law is required to announce a day and time for board meetings. Posting agendas and documents is not required, so it’s up to the board to decide what to make public ahead of time.

Dosen said he called BoardDocs immediately prior to the Oct. 22 board meeting. The company said the software in Brecksville-Broadview Heights is set up to publish all public-classified documents three days before the board meets. The board can change that timing.

“The documents should automatically go public unless there is a specific reason for it not to,” Dosen said.

For example, information about contract negotiations with the superintendent or treasurer, or about the district buying or selling land, would remain out of the public eye because it’s executive session material.

Board member Mike Ziegler asked who decides what does and doesn’t go public.

Pedersen said the entire board can make that decision. He said public documents should appear on the district website no later than the morning of the board meeting so that residents have time to digest the information.

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