- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - A western Arkansas school board unintentionally violated the Freedom of Information Act when members proposed a new slate of officers by email, according to recent court ruling.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor issued an order on Tuesday saying Fort Smith School Board’s email exchange in October amounted to a “meeting” in which public business was discussed and decisions were made.

Tabor ruled the public wasn’t given any prior notice as required by state law. But the judge also said the board didn’t intend to violate the law or deceive the public.

Tabor issued a permanent injunction against board members conducting future business by email without first providing public notice.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Fort Smith residents June Bradshaw and Greg Murray. Their attorney, Joey McCutchen, said the judge’s ruling was vindication for citizens’ rights to have business conducted in public.

School Board President Deanie Mehl said she wasn’t surprised by the judge’s ruling. She said that shortly after the emails came to light, she was aware that board members had made an error in having the discussion through email.

Mehl said last year that the board would no longer have such conversations through email.

She said she thought the lawsuit was unnecessary but that it carried on because law experts gave the board conflicting opinions from about whether their actions were Freedom of Information Act violations.

“I hope we have finally closed this chapter and can focus on things we need to do,” she said.

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