Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Board Member Cleared

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Board Member Cleared

Article excerpt

ARANIBAR: State cites lack of evidence she held back from records request


State prosecutors declined to file charges against Manatee County School Board member Julie Aranibar over a potential public records violation, citing insufficient evidence that the school leader knowingly withheld text messages from a citizens' information request.

State reports also show that an investigation -- which began in November after local school activist Christine Sket filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office -- expanded to include School Board members Karen Carpenter and Barbara Harvey.

Sket, of the advocacy group Fund Education Now!, requested all text messages sent by board members during their meeting on Sept. 10, the same date former superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned amid an unfolding budget crisis. She said she had seen several board members texting at the dais that evening, and Harvey had made a comment suggesting she had received text messages during the meeting.

School employees' text messages are public record in Florida if they pertain to school business.

The State Attorney's Office concluded on Jan. 25 that because board members were not conducting business in secret with each other, the state's Government-in-the-Sunshine law had not been violated. Officials also said there was not enough proof that board members knowingly failed to present text messages in response to the information request, as required under the public records law.

"I'm not happy that the state attorney let it go, but I'm not surprised because it seems like it's so minor," Sket said on Monday. "But it's important to know if people are working for students or working for someone else."

After Aranibar said she had nothing to produce for Sket's September public records request, Sket filed a report with the Sheriff's Office on Nov. 8. She provided copies of text messages that showed Aranibar engaged in a brief text conversation with former School Board candidate Robert Moates on the evening of Sept. 10.

By examining phone records and emails the district collected, investigators learned that Moates texted both Aranibar and Carpenter during the meeting, asking to speak on a budget issue. …

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