The Arizona Daily Star has sued TUSD to compel the district to release the names of finalists in its search for a new superintendent.
"The selection process here has an acute public interest," said attorney Dan Barr, who filed the suit in Pima County Superior Court Tuesday on behalf of the Star.
Barr said the public has a right to know whom the school district interviewed for the job.
TUSD representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
On June 8 the TUSD Governing Board met in closed session. Although the posted meeting notice said only that it was to consult with its attorney, the board interviewed four candidates to replace John Pedicone, who announced resignation in March.
Sixty-seven people initially applied.
On June 10 the TUSD board announced H.T. Sanchez, interim superintendent of Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, was the sole remaining candidate.
TUSD hired PROACT Search to manage the job search. PROACT pared the field to 10 names, which were presented to the board earlier this month. That list ultimately was reduced to the four candidates who were interviewed.
The Star requested the names of the other three candidates who were interviewed after the June 10 meeting, and again in a formal public-records request the next day.
TUSD refused to provide the names or other documents on the grounds they were discussed in executive session, and therefore exempt from disclosure.
On July 12, Barr submitted another request, to which the district's legal counsel, Nancy Woll, responded that all the applicants were assured their names "would be disclosed ONLY if they were seriously considered candidates and if they agreed to be named as finalists."
Sanchez, Woll said, was the only "seriously considered candidate."
But Barr said candidates interviewed by the board in executive session qualify as "seriously considered" and their information should be made public. As far as being named "finalists," he said state law makes no distinction for that term. "They're playing a cynical shell game," Barr said.
While state law forbids the disclosure of specific details of executive session discussions, Barr argued that the résumés and application materials existed before the executive session, and their release wouldn't reveal the substance of the private discussions.
The district can't claim documents that already existed become confidential once they are brought into an executive session, he said. "Imagine they brought a dictionary into an executive session. Would the contents of the dictionary be confidential?"
"The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on this very issue 22 years ago and said the public has the right to know the names of candidates seriously considered for such an important taxpayer-funded position," Bobbie Jo Buel, the Star's editor, said Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, Barr cites that 1991 Arizona Supreme Court case, Arizona Board of Regents v. Phoenix Newspapers Inc., in which the newspaper wanted to know the names of the candidates interviewed for president of Arizona State University.
Although the Board of Regents narrowed a list of 236 applicants to three candidates, it provided the name of only one, saying the other two had dropped out.
The court ruled the names of candidates a public body seriously considers for a job must be made public, and those applicants have no legal expectation of confidentiality.
"The public's legitimate interest in knowing which candidates are being considered for the job therefore outweighs the 'countervailing interests of confidentiality, privacy (and) the best interests of the state,' " the court ruled.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org