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District provides incomplete records in response to Sunshine Law request

Mehlville School District officials recently provided incomplete records to an Oakville resident who requested information about the district's cellular phone usage during the 2002-2003 school year — records that cost him $190.12.

Dan Fowler recently asked Mehlville administrators to provide copies of invoices and documents that would show how much district employees had been reimbursed for cell phone usage during the past academic year, but information is missing from those documents. Fowler had requested the information under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law.

District officials responded to Fowler's request, but would provide the information only if he paid for the labor and paper costs incurred by the three employees it took to make 308 copies, gather and re-file the documentation, stated an e-mail sent to Fowler by Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district's chief financial officer. Fowler was charged for 12.5 hours of labor.

In some instances concise bill statements were provided, lacking detailed documentation itemizing outgoing phone calls. And in other cases, entire months of data were missing from the stack of papers handed over to Fowler.

Charles said Monday afternoon that he could not comment whether information was missing from the documentation supplied to Fowler because he did not have the cell phone records in front of him — he would have to go back and retrieve the information from district records, upon request.

If a couple of months of reimbursement are missing from the information provided, Charles said it is possible an administrator never claimed reimbursement for those months.

"I had people pull everything that we had. It has not been determined that anything is missing," Charles told the Call. "Let's wait and answer that question later. Fowler got what he paid for. We hired a retired business office employee to come in and she did nothing but work on that project. So, there's no discrepancy about how many hours she spent. He was charged so much per copy. What he paid for is just what he got. If there does seem to be something that was overlooked, he didn't pay for it, it was just overlooked."

During the 2002-2003 school year, the district spent a total of $26,474.10 for cell phone usage, according to information the district supplied to Fowler. The district, which uses Cingular Wireless as its cell phone provider, supplied 24 cell phones to employees during the 2002-2003 school year and reimbursed three employees for their cell phone usage.

Fowler, who served two terms on the Mehlville Board of Education, also asked for a copy of the district's current cell phone policy, but was informed the district does not have any policy relating to cell phone usage.

"The district uses the procedure established under 600.10 of the procedural manual that is correlated to the old District Policy manual last revised in November 1996 and replaced with a new policy manual in January 1998," Charles stated in an e-mail to Fowler. "There is no policy specifically related to reimbursement for or provision of cell phones in the new policy manual."

Board Vice President Matthew Chellis recently directed administrators to conduct a review of the district's cell phone policy, asking that it be done in a "thoughtful and complete manner." Results from that review will be presented during a February or March board meeting along with a review of nepotism or conflict of interest, discipline and other district policies.

Despite a lack of policy, Superintendent Tim Ricker contends that the district has internal checks and balances that monitor cell phone reimbursements. But the district did not provide Ricker's cell phone records for August 2002 or November 2002 despite the written request for "copies of cell phone records reimbursed or owned by the district of Central Office administrators" for the past year.

The district reimbursed Superintendent Tim Ricker $828.41 between June 23, 2002, and May 26, 2003 for the usage of his Sprint PCS cell phone, excluding the unprovided November and August amounts.

Those amounts, if any, are undetermined because the statements for July 24 to Aug. 23 and Oct. 24 to Nov. 23 were not included in the documents provided to Fowler.

Itemized lists including each telephone number called on Ricker's cell phone were not provided in the 2002 cell phone statements dated Aug. 24 to Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 to Oct. 24.

The statements included taxes, monthly service and additional usage charges, but did not detail the month's outgoing or incoming calls, like the statements provided for the other eight months.

However, the Aug. 24 statement does indicate that an additional $10 service fee was added to Ricker's $49.99 monthly base rate that billing cycle to also include Sprint's Wireless Web Messaging service. That, plus an equipment replacement program charge, brought Ricker's base bill to at least $63.99 a month until the end of the academic year.

However, nearly every statement after the rate change indicated Ricker exceeded his phone plan's minutes and was charged extra, excluding the statement showing charges from Sept. 24 to Oct. 23. For instance, the most recent statement provided for charges between April 24 and May 26, 2003, shows Ricker exceeded his plan's minutes and he was reimbursed $116.93.

Ricker also called his home in Eureka 131 times during the last academic year — 49 calls took place before 5 p.m., according to the eight statements the district provided.

Upon investigation, many of the phone numbers listed on Ricker's cell phone statements were unlisted phone numbers.

For instance, Ricker made a call on his cell phone at 11:01 p.m. Dec. 31, 2002, to an unlisted number in Princeton, N.J. and then at 12:10 a.m. Jan. 1, 2003, he called an unlisted number in Kirkwood. Ricker was out of town vacationing at that time last year. Both the Princeton and Kirkwood numbers appear more than once in his cell phone statements.

Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Randy Charles was reimbursed $859.87 during the 2002-2003 academic year.

Even though the school district's provider is Cingular Wireless, he contends that the Cingular service does not work well in his bottom floor office in the Administration Building.

The records provided to Fowler supplied all 12 monthly statements from Charles' Sprint PCS Wireless phone, but not one of those statements included a complete itemized list of outgoing or incoming calls.

Of the partial lists that were provided, consisting of two and a half sheets of paper, Charles called his home in Oakville 13 times — five of those calls were made before 5 p.m.

Charles' records also indicated that he had been reimbursed at least $15.10 in charges posted for calls to directory assistance.

On Monday, Charles said that because the district was reimbursing him for his personal Sprint cell phone, he did not need to include itemized statements. It's not that the district didn't provide them to Fowler — Charles never submitted them, he said.

"I pay my bill and the district reimbursed me, so I don't need to include it all in there. The ones you see all the detail are on the Cingular bills," Charles said, noting the district changed cell phone vendors last year and now most district-owned phones utilize a pooled group Cingular Wireless calling plan.

Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed was not reimbursed for all of the charges resulting in her cell phone bills during the 2002-2003 year.

Her cell phone records indicate she was reimbursed for district-related phone calls, totaling $157.97.

It does not appear that she was reimbursed for the calls she made to her home in Washington during or after office hours.

She claimed calls she made on a Sprint PCS wireless phone that was registered in her husband's name, Douglas Reed, during the June billing cycle, but then switched to Verizon Wireless, according to a bill dated Sept. 7.

The copies of Reed's records that were provided to Fowler also were incomplete as no documents showing charges from July were provided, but she was reimbursed $13.30 for the July and August cell phone use.

Her other reimbursement documents were grouped together. For instance, statements from December 2002, January 2003 and February 2003 were provided, but records show she was reimbursed $22.59 for all three months with no indication as to how much she was reimbursed for each month.

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