Crestwood settles public records lawsuit with open government activist

Crestwood school district has agreed to settle a lawsuit from serial litigator Brian Ames, a Randolph man who champions transparency in public bodies.

The school board voted at its meeting last month, June 27, to settle the case with Ames, who had requested documents from the district which it could not provide.

“I have three lawsuits against the district at the moment and they have agreed to settle one,” Ames said.
The school board decided to reach a settlement with Ames to avoid spending money on fighting the legal case, it said in its motion.

“The board maintains it has acted in accordance with the law at all times and denies all fault or liability for any damage or claim whatsoever as alleged by Mr. Ames,” states the motion, which passed unanimously.
But it also noted: “It is in the best interests of the Crestwood Local School District to resolve the Litigation involving Mr. Ames and obtain an early resolution to avoid unnecessarily expending valuable resources by defending the board’s position through to the end of the litigation.”

“He requested a variety of things and we were unable to provide all the documents, and under sunshine laws he is entitled to compensation for that,” district Treasurer Katie Hoffmeister told the board.

Superintendent David Toth said the district cannot comment on litigation.

Ames told The Portager he has been nicknamed the Open Government Act Bounty Hunter as he has set himself the mission of holding public bodies responsible for following transparency laws. “I find it rather amusing,” he said.

“Crestwood is maybe the 10th district I have sued,” Ames said. “I sued five earlier this year. Three settled, a fourth is settling. I just keep hammering to get them to comply with the law.”

But Ames said he does not sue public bodies for money. With settlements being capped at $500 for a violation and $1,000 for a records violation, the compensation offers little incentive for the amount of time invested.

“The money is not the objective,” he said. “What that does is facilitate more actions. I am a retired software engineer, and I have a good income. This is not a money maker. The primary motive is to get compliance with the law. I have a personal mission for good governance.”

“The part that never gets reported is how many places I have told them they are doing it wrong, and they just take care of it and I don’t have to sue them,” he added.

Ames said in this instance he wanted copies of public records.

“They refused to give them to me and gave me a phony baloney reason for it,” he said. “They suggested I instead use the meeting notes posted online, but they are not signed so they are not official.”

Ames said he has two outstanding cases against the district, one centered on a mental health survey undertaken among staff.

“When they got the results, they would not give them, arguing they are not public records,” he said.
He said he is unconvinced the survey was anonymous as stated by the district. “Some of the responses were very negative and I think this is about not wanting it publicized.”

The final case he is pursuing is over open meetings.

“It’s over violations of the Open Meetings Act,” he said. “Every public body is required to hold their meetings in the open and notify the public so they can come and see what they are doing.”

Mark Baxter
+ posts