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PPS board member Paul Anthony seeks to block new records release
Paul Anthony, the Portland Public Schools board member under pressure from principals and two board colleagues to resign, is refusing to turn over Facebook Messenger correspondence that the Portland Association of Public School Administrators sought as part of its extensive request for Anthony's written records.
Last week, the association that represents principals, vice principals and associate principals in PPS called on Anthony to resign over disparaging statements that came to light in an initial batch of email and text-message records Anthony released in response to their March records request.
Anthony, who called one board colleague a "bitch" and top-level district administrators "perverts" in the text messages, said his Facebook messages are private and personal—and not subject to disclosure. The principals group is seeking only messages between Anthony and Kim Sordyl, the vocal parent activist whom PPS administrators accuse of bullying behavior toward school-district employees.
Anthony's decision is noteworthy.
As a parent activist who won election to the school board in 2015, Anthony has been an outspoken critic of PPS secrecy. In February, he pushed colleagues on the board unsuccessfully to make the search for its next superintendent public, writing in The Oregonian that to do otherwise was "a slap in the face to those people who believe the school board should be open and transparent."
He earlier released the email messages and text messages to PAPSA, he said, because of his own repeated calls for transparency. But he's drawing the line at Facebook Messenger.
To help him, Anthony has enlisted as his attorney someone who separately represents Sordyl, the parent activist, in her effort to force PPS to disclose records of employees on paid administrative leave, including principals.
"The failure to timely provide a full response to this public records request is surprising, given that the records being requested are by and between two individuals who, in the past, have been highly critical of individual district employees who have denied or delayed public records requests," an attorney for PAPSA wrote in a follow-up letter June 22.
As an elected official, Anthony can decline to release correspondence solely in his possession. PAPSA's only recourse would be to sue him in state court. If PAPSA prevailed, Oregon Public Records Law would then require that Anthony or the district pay PAPSA's legal bills.
PAPSA's call for Anthony to resign cited inappropriate language in his correspondence, mostly with Sordyl. The principals group also criticized his close association with a Facebook page called Parents for Excellent Portland Principals, which district administrators have pointed to as a source of angst and fear among staff and one of the causes of the district's huge staff turnover. Sordyl helps run the group.
"As a board member, you have a duty to fairly and impartially resolve complaints involving district employees and otherwise make decisions affecting their employment," PAPSA wrote in its June 21 letter to Anthony. "In such capacity, you have an obligation to make impartial decisions based on the evidence presented to you. Membership in an organization that personally maligns and attacks employees that you have a duty to treat impartially impairs your actual and perceived ability to be fair and impartial."
The letter continued: "Membership in an organization that personally maligns and attacks employees of PPS also has a chilling effect on employees throughout the district. Employees targeted by an organization that you apparently belong to is devastating to general employee morale. When employees are subjected to such public attacks, it interferes with their ability to perform their work, which ultimately harms the students PPS is responsible for educating."
Connection to parent activist
Sordyl is also a strong proponent of transparency. She is currently in court against PPS to force it to release documents showing who at PPS is on paid administrative leave. (Full disclosure: The Portland Tribune is separately a party to that lawsuit seeking to open the records to public inspection.)
In the PPS matter, Sordyl's attorney is Rick VanCleave, the same person Anthony has now engaged to block release of records that PAPSA believes would further illustrate how he conducts public business as a school-board member. VanCleave confirmed in an email Monday that he is representing Anthony.
VanCleave said Anthony did not use Facebook Messenger to conduct the public's business and, therefore, whatever messages exist aren't public records. If PAPSA pressed its case, it would be up to a Multnomah County judge to decide.
"PAPSA does not have the right to engage in a fishing expedition," VanCleave wrote in a message to the Tribune. "PAPSA is not acting in the public's interest. It is only acting in its own malicious interest to harass and embarrass Paul."
For her part, Sordyl suggested that Anthony is only doing what other board members have done to her to thwart her records requests. She said Anthony should release the additional records that PAPSA wants "as soon as [board member] Amy Kohnstamm turns over her text messages" with Lincoln High School's principal from last fall. Kohnstamm, citing the same privilege as Anthony, declined to release any text messages as part of Sordyl's inquiry into a feud between Kohnstamm and Lincoln's principal over a Sept. 7 walk-out by students.
Calls to reform or resign
School board members Kohnstamm and Pam Knowles have joined PAPSA's call on Anthony to resign. Colleagues Tom Koehler, Julie Esparza Brown and Mike Rosen have called on Anthony to evaluate his actions and improve.
"I believe board members have to set a high standard for how we engage with one another and this is something that we need to discuss in the coming weeks," Rosen wrote in a statement Monday. "Our principals, staff, superintendent and teachers work diligently and hard and they deserve our utmost support and respect."
Only board member Steve Buel, who leaves office with Knowles and Koehler at the end of this month, has defended Anthony.