The “dog and pony” show that was put on for public view by the majority of the Bay-Waveland School Board, their attorney, Ronnie Artigues, and guest speaker, attorney Jim Keith on the night of February 15 led me to make a Public Records Request for the CD audio of the meeting.
Mr. Keith’s visit to the School District Board meeting was, I assume, at the suggestion of School Board Attorney, Artigues. The bill for his visit, however, will go to the taxpayers. Obviously the Advisory Opinion of Tom Hood, Director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission either didn’t impress Artigues or Keith, or they knew the majority of the board was dumb enough to follow their advice rather than an Ethics Board Opinion. This is not a first for this board and its attorney.
Hood’s Advisory Opinion pertained to the school board appointing Vikki Landry Superintendent. She is the sister of the Business Manager, John McCraw. Long story short, the ethics opinion cited state law and an AG Opinion prohibiting such nepotism, and held that one or the other should resign their position. The brother sister team could not serve together.
Artigues and Keith convinced the board, with the exception of Casey Favre, to defy state law.
Keith even went as far as to tell the board there were “other districts in the state that do this all the time.” When I confronted him after the meeting for the names of those districts, his reply to me was, ” I’d rather not name them. I don’t want them to get reported.” I replied, “Reported for what? You just told this board it was perfectly okay for sister and brother to work together in the Central Office in violation of State law.” I didn’t get any names.
My experience in acquiring the audio of this meeting is evidence of the devious behavior that goes beyond the board and their attorneys.
I started out Monday morning with a Public Records Request for the tape, and Tuesday received a phone call that it was ready. I picked it up, and it would not play on any CD player I owned. So I called Shannon Funk, the school board’s secretary. She offered to make another one.
I picked it up and it too wouldn’t play so I called back and Ms. Funk made me another copy. She then called me and said that she had neglected to use the correct program for making the tape. I picked it up again and this time the audio played just fine, except for one problem:
The part of the meeting where Artigues and Keith did their “dog and pony show” was not on the tape.
So I went back in the office to talk to Ms. Funk about the incomplete tape of the meeting, and she told me, “the recorder was not turned on for that part of the meeting.”
Since I filled out my Public Records Request form for the tape of that school board meeting, one would logically assume to receive the entire meeting on tape. Why wasn’t I told up front that the meeting audio was incomplete?
I can only speculate at this point, but I have to ask myself:
- Was the 48 hours we wasted with inoperable audio CDs a ploy to put me off so that part of the audio could be erased?
- Was Ms. Funk instructed to erase the audio?
- Or was Ms Funk instructed in advance to not record audio of the presentation made by Keith and Artigues.
As an active member of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government I have worked with a number of different public record custodians including those charged with keeping the minutes of the official meetings. One major reason audio recordings of these public meetings are made is for use as a tool so that the meeting minutes are accurate and complete as well as to avoid he-said she-said type of disputes. Now it appears the school district has deliberately spoilated the audio of a school board meeting where the Board decided to ignore a very recently issued ethics opinion.
That is very important because the school board took action that is in direct violation of an ethics commission opinion was based upon what was said by two lawyers in a meeting where the audio of the segment was either erased, or not recorded. It is taxpayers of this school district that are being abused by this devious behavior.
We now know the majority of the elected and appointed officials in this school district have no concern for the oaths they took to uphold the LAWS of the State of Mississippi. Should we be shocked that the support staff follows suit? I think not.