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Sep 1, 2016 2:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton School District Reaches Settlement With Reclaim New York Over Denial Of Records

Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir announced a lawsuit against the Southampton School District on August 3 for failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Law. GREG WEHNER
Sep 6, 2016 2:33 PM

Southampton School Board members have settled a lawsuit brought against the district at the beginning of August, which accused district officials of violating the Freedom of Information Law

As part of the settlement, the four members of the seven-member board who attended the meeting on Thursday, September 1, voted unanimously to pay the $4,013 in legal fees incurred by Reclaim New York, the Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that initiated the Article 78 petition.

“Southampton School District finally ran out of excuses for skirting the Freedom of Information Law,” Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir said in a prepared statement. “After months of wasting time, and forcing Reclaim New York to spend thousands of dollars in legal expenses, their decision to reimburse attorney’s fees is an admission they were wrong to deny repeated requests for basic spending information.”

The lawsuit was brought against the district by Reclaim New York on August 3 after the school district refused to provide its 2014 spending records as part of a FOIL request. Along with the spending records, Reclaim New York also sought out check numbers to verify the completeness of the information.

District officials denied the FOIL request and a subsequent appeal, stating that providing the check numbers could lead to “unauthorized and perhaps illegal activity.”

After Reclaim New York announced plans for a press conference about a handful of lawsuits the organization was filing on August 3, district officials made one last-ditch effort to provide the 2014 spending records, but still failed to provide the check numbers. Six days after the lawsuit was filed by Reclaim New York, district officials provided the records with check numbers, but the organization continued with its lawsuit.

Even though district officials denied the request initially out of fear that releasing the check numbers could lead to fraud, the check numbers are posted on the Board of Education’s paperless agenda for each meeting, under the summary of warrants.

“The Southampton School District should be embarrassed that they went to court, and put themselves on the hook for legal fees, arguing check numbers were a ‘security risk’ when they publish the check numbers on their website with the agenda for board meetings,” said Douglas Kellogg, communications director for Reclaim New York. “If there was any doubt they were doing anything but making excuses to not be transparent, this should erase it.”

Although Interim Superintendent Nicholas Dyno would not address the issue with the check numbers, he said the district was “pleased to have been able to settle this lawsuit prior to the start of school.”

A second lawsuit alleging FOIL violations was filed by the Press News Group, publishers of The Southampton Press in late August. That lawsuit is still active.

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Another 4k for unnecessary bs. These baffoons need to go.
By chief1 (2720), southampton on Sep 1, 16 3:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
The school board members should have to pay this themselves! This is not a district responsibility. It was there choice not to release public information. They learn nothing if they don't have to assume the responsibility to pay the fine!

By K2040 (8), Southampton on Sep 1, 16 4:26 PM
SMFH. Can these buffoons do anything that would fall under"educating our children"?
By Draggerman (903), Southampton on Sep 1, 16 5:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
So if the attorney for the board members does not win, the taxpayers foot the bill for the winning attorney. But, we are being told that the attorney works for the board. If the attorney works for the board and is not on the ballot, why are taxpayer funds being used to cover the legal fees? Where does Frank Wheeler stand on this?
By even flow (833), East Hampton on Sep 1, 16 6:28 PM
No more conferences and free trips. Spent that money already. Doesn't matter, you own the books, Executive Session???
By knitter (1720), Southampton on Sep 1, 16 7:14 PM
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Sep 1, 16 11:28 PM
The atty that advised this was ok should pay this bill.
By chief1 (2720), southampton on Sep 2, 16 7:51 AM