Shortly after being handed the Arizona Press Club’s brick wall “award,” the president of Pima Community College’s Governing Board said she wanted a full discussion on the college’s public records policy.
The brick — also known as The Joe Arpaio First Amendment Disservice Award — is a criticism of the college’s record on handling public documents.
Sylvia Lee, president of Pima Community College’s Governing Board, instructed college staff to prepare for future discussion of the issue, asking for a log of public requests for the last three years and a tally of how many the college has responded to.
She also asked staff to calculate the cost and staff time that went into producing the records. She also asked them to compile the headlines of all articles mentioning PCC in the last three years.
The Arizona Press Club — a nonprofit organization comprised solely of working journalists — faulted the college for its decision not to follow a 2013 opinion by then-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to allow inspection of public records free of charge. PCC requires the public to pay copying fees before reviewing any document that has been redacted.
Dan Barr, a Phoenix attorney who represents the First Amendment Coalition and has represented the Arizona Daily Star, took issue with some of Lee’s requests.
He said taking staff time to calculate costs is unnecessary, as state statute requires PCC to provide public information to anyone who asks for it, whether a private citizen or a member of the media. Providing records does not take time away from PCC employees’ jobs — it is part of their job, Barr said.
“It is no less of a governmental duty than any other duty that they have,” he said.
As for the headlines, Barr said it is irrelevant to a discussion of producing public records as required by law. He wondered if the staff analysis would somehow change if the headlines were favorable to the institution.
Earlier in the day, the board discussed several lawsuits as well as the state’s open meetings law in a closed-door executive session with their attorneys.
Editor's note: This story has been updated. An earlier version referred to an executive session held by the PCC board after the meeting started. It was held earlier in the day.