Thu, May 23

Commentary: Lack of transparency continues to be part of Mingus culture

For more than a year now, Mingus Union High School officials have displayed a pattern of carelessness when it comes to complying with Arizona’s open meeting and public records laws.

The latest in this trend deals with the posting of minutes on the MUHS website. It was brought to our attention this week by a citizen concerned with the employment status of a member of the Mingus staff.

It’s easy to understand the concern. As of Thursday of this week, there is no record of official school board decisions posted on the Mingus Union website since April 23.

It’s not as if there have not been meetings since April 23. Including the board’s July 12 meeting, the Mingus School Board has met 10 times, including two executive sessions, since April 23 and none of the minutes from those meetings have been posted to the MUHS website, even though Arizona law clearly states minutes shall be open to public inspection and available for photocopying three working days after the meeting.

To which Mingus Superintendent Penny Hargrove contends, “We cannot post minutes that have not been approved by the board.”

Guess what? You can. You simply have to choose to do it. It’s all a matter of your commitment to transparency.

Take a look, for example, at the Cottonwood-Oak Creek website and you will see that its school board meeting minutes are always posted within three days of the meeting. C-OC Superintendent Steve King explained that it is his district’s policy that “draft” minutes are posted to the district website within three days of the meeting. Likewise, “approved” minutes are also posted to the website within three days of the meeting at which they were approved.

In Cottonwood-Oak Creek’s case, credit the district with going above and beyond the requirement of the law to post “draft” minutes on its website. The law only requires those minutes be made available to the public upon request. The typical procedure of most government agencies is to only post minutes that have been “approved” – or sanitized -- by the school board or city/town council.

This issue of not posting minutes of Mingus Union School Board meetings in a timely manner coincides with earlier revelations concerning Mingus’ former sloppy practices in the manner the school district makes public notice of its school board meetings. It also follows criticism concerning the absence of support documentation in the electronic posting of school board agendas.

To Mingus’ credit, both of those transparency problems have been corrected, and Hargrove said Thursday morning the problem with the timely posting of minutes also soon will be corrected.

The bigger question concerning transparency issues at Mingus deals with where the problem lies. Is it administrative oversight, disregard for the requirements of the law, or is this part of Mingus’ culture that starts and stops with the way the school board wants the district to operate.

Last year, Mingus was taken to task for having its school board members use private email accounts to communicate school district business.

That practice is ripe for abuse of the Arizona Open Meeting Law. Further, it is a practice inconsistent with the manner elected officials at nearly every level in the Verde Valley communicate electronically. Most all require their elected officials use official government email for all correspondences of official capacity. As Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski explained at the time, always using an official government email account ensures that all of his electronic communication is documented public record. It eliminates any possibility of being accused of conducting the public’s business behind the public’s back.

When Mingus was challenged on the practice of its school board members communicating by private email, Mingus’ solution to the problem was to remove the links to the school board members’ private email accounts from the district web page.

Guess what? Mingus continues to this day to have its elected school board communicate public business through private email accounts. Instead of correcting a bad policy, Mingus instead chose to hide it by removing the links to the school board members’ email accounts from its web page, and, in effect, make it more difficult for the public to communicate with its elected school board.

Ultimately, the legal transparency issues at MUHS begin and end with the members of the Mingus Union School Board.

When it comes to transparency, it’s obvious how they prefer to do business.