District Hires Firm To Help With Investigation

Aug 22, 2012

Columbus City Schools - one of three districts facing probes into enrollment and attendance practices - has hired a law firm to assist with information requests.

In the midst of an internal, an independent and a state audit into attendance rigging, the Columbus City School board last night passed a resolution to contract with an outside law firm for help.  The open-ended contract with Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur could cost up to $100,000. Under the agreement, the firm will advise and represent the district on "matters pertaining to school attendance records and reporting."
Superintendent Gene Harris says the move will free up the district's in-house counsel to focus on day-to-day business, while Porter Wright will fulfill requests for information.

HARRIS:  For example, the Auditor of State's requests that we want to respond to very quickly, as well as we are getting media requests.  One day we had probably a total of 8 or 9 public records requests, in one day.  And you know, that's pretty intense work.  And some of it is sometimes specialized.  When you get into electronic requests and those kinds of things, there might be skill sets that we might not even have to actually retrieve some of that electronic data.

Harris says the amount billed to the district will be tracked weekly, and the administration could return to the board to authorize additional money.  Board member Mike Wiles says he has two problems with the resolution:

WILES: The scope and the dollar amount.  I mean, I understand needing the attorneys to work with our staff for all the records requests.  I just didn't like the idea that... the scope is a little broader than that... and the price is 100-thousand dollars.  I mean, if I give you 100-thousand dollars and say 'Here: just don't spend anymore than that'  -- how much are you gonna give me back?

Harris says the role of the firm might change as the investigation continues, but insists that at this point, it will simply expand the districts capacity to respond to information requests.  Two weeks ago the board approved an unusual request to waiver attorney-client privilege in order to aid the attendance-rigging investigation.  The resolution to retain the firm passed 5-1; Wiles voted against and Hanifa Kambon abstained.