Tucson Unified School District must reveal the names of the three unsuccessful superintendent candidates interviewed by the Governing Board, a Pima County Superior Court judge has ruled.
The district has 10 days to release the names or appeal. District officials said on Friday they did not know if the board would appeal.
Only H.T. Sanchez, who was appointed last month, has been identified.
The district has refused to identify three others who were secretly brought in for interviews with the board, saying the candidates were promised secrecy.
Attorney Dan Barr, arguing on behalf of the Arizona Daily Star, which sued to get the names, said that promise, and the district's refusal to release the names, violates a 1992 Arizona Supreme Court ruling that all "serious candidates" for public positions must be identified and have no right to expect their names to be kept secret.
Barr argued that the fact the final four applicants survived a series of cuts from an original field of 67, and participated in interviews with the full board, clearly makes them "serious candidates."
In June the TUSD Governing Board's executive recruiter gave it the names and backgrounds of the 10 best candidates. From that group, the board selected four who were brought in for interviews in a closed executive session. The public notice for the session said it was to discuss the superintendent selection, but gave no indication candidates would be brought in.
The district argued that because the candidates' résumés were reviewed, and interviews conducted, in an executive session the names were protected by the state's executive session privilege.
By that rationale, Barr countered, public bodies that bring into an executive session items as innocuous as a dictionary or phone book could claim those texts were privileged and exempt from open- meeting and public-record laws.
Pima County Superior Court Judge James E. Marner, in his July 31 ruling, wrote TUSD's argument that application materials are exempt "is not convincing."
Marner said state law and multiple state court rulings clearly indicate any exception to the Open Meetings Law "should be narrowly construed in favor of requiring public meetings." He also cited a state attorney general's opinion that "any scheme or device designed to circumvent the purposes of the Open Meetings Law would be subject to close scrutiny."
While the "deliberations and findings of the executive board" are protected from disclosure, Marner wrote, nothing in state law indicates "all documents considered by a public body should be afforded the same protection from public disclosure."
He said interviews of the four candidates were a step in the decision- making process, and the board's naming Sanchez "the lone finalist" actually "amounted to a hiring decision."
"TUSD's proposed application (of executive session exemptions) would allow a public body to impermissibly expand the exception by unilaterally declaring that any existing outside information considered at an executive session is privileged, thereby avoiding the clear legislative intent that the actions of a public body should be taken, whenever possible, in an open forum," Marner wrote.
Marner denied the Star's request for TUSD to cover attorney's fees.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @pm929.