Beaufort County school board chair defends in email not releasing all superintendent finalists' names

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Beaufort County school board chair defends in email not releasing all superintendent finalists' names

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Thursday, February 7, 2013   |  573 Words  |  

Beaufort County school board Chairman Bill Evans reaffirmed his stance Thursday that the board will only release names of superintendent finalists who agree to participate in another round of interviews with the board, despite a 2007 S.C. Supreme Court ruling that indicates the names must be released.

The school board selected finalists behind closed doors Wednesday for the district's top post.

In an email to The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet on Thursday, Evans said the board wants "to increase transparency and be more involved with the public," but still does not intend to release the names of all applicants under final consideration for the district's top post.

"We want and need to maintain the viability of the pool of applicants," Evans wrote. "If we give you the names now before we have confirmation of their desire to return, two potential scenarios exist."

The first scenario, Evans wrote, could be one of the candidates has a change of heart, and announcing their name "may well put them in serious problems with their present board and community."

The second scenario: If a finalist drops out and the next person on the board's list declines to participate in further interviews "because their name was not identified initially and they don't want to come as an 'also ran' candidate."

"Both of these scenarios present real problems to us in getting the best candidate possible," Evans wrote. "Once we have secured continued interest from the candidates, we will release their names and any other information that the law requires. The board is simply reluctantly to drive potentially strong candidates away by releasing their names if we do not have confirmation of their continued interest."

Not releasing the names of all finalists violates a 2007 S.C. Supreme Court ruling that says the public is entitled to see all materials collected for persons under final consideration -- whether they choose to participate in further interviews or not, according to Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association and a freedom of information expert.

The court ruled Spartanburg County School District No. 7 violated state law by disclosing to The Spartanburg Herald-Journal materials for only two of a group of five final applicants for superintendent.

That district had assured five "semifinalists" only the identities of the finalists would be revealed. As a result, the district provided information for two of the applicants considered to be "finalists."

The court said state law requires public bodies to disclose the final pool of applicants composed of at least three people.

"We do not agree ... that only those applicants deemed ... to be 'finalists' are subject to disclosure," according to the court. "According to the plain language of the statute, disclosure is limited to the final pool consisting of not fewer than three applicants."

Evans did not immediately respond to a reply asking why the board would choose to act contrary to state law and a S.C. Supreme Court decision.

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