Pasco School Board attorney tells members to share emails to avoid Sunshine violation accusations

It’s best to be transparent, lawyer Dennis Alfonso advises the board.
The Pasco County School Board [Times photo | 2018]
The Pasco County School Board [Times photo | 2018]
Published Oct. 2, 2019

Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding had a concern.

She had received an email from a constituent regarding student dress code rules, and in it the writer mentioned the views of fellow board member Cynthia Armstrong.

Because dress code was included in the student code of conduct, which was scheduled for an upcoming vote, Harding worried. State law, after all, prohibits board members from privately discussing items that are expected to come up for formal action by the governing body.

Harding called the board’s lawyer, Dennis Alfonso, asking what to do. She wanted no part of even an inadvertent violation by receiving an unsolicited email.

Alfonso — already gunshy after a county judge struck down the board’s 2017 school attendance zone revisions because members of an advisory committee discussed the issues outside their meetings — gave the entire board the most cautious advice he could muster.

If a board member gets any correspondence referring to a colleague’s views, no matter how oblique, that email should get sent straight to the superintendent’s office for distribution to the entire board and inclusion in the public record, Alfonso told the board on Tuesday.

That way, he said, it would be clear that every board member was privy to the same information and no one was trying to collaborate behind the scenes on any subject coming up for a vote.

Not that Alfonso suggested that receiving such an email actually represented an open meeting violation. Members of the general public, who have no responsibility for writing district policies and rules, cannot poll the board and fashion agency action in the same way that a district employee or appointee can.

Still, Alfonso said, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I don’t want to have even the perception of a lack of transparency,” he later explained.