Howard County Board of Education member Allen Dyer filed a lawsuit last week against the board attempting to prevent it and its employees from deleting electronic messages and other documents, but his request for a temporary restraining order was denied.
Dyer requested a restraining order Tuesday as well as a temporary and/or permanent injunction in Howard County Circuit Court, insisting that the board cease destroying documents — particularly any e-mail from board members and employees — until it has a written policy outlining how such documents should be handled. He said the policy should also address text messages and use of such social networking websites as Facebook and Twitter.
"The information we're talking about are current events, and information about those current events is lost when you lose your primary historical record," Dyer said. "Our system of government is dependent upon looking at history. Our system of law is dependent upon looking at history."
On Thursday Mark Blom, the county schools' general counsel, said that the request for a temporary restraining order was denied and that he believes both injunction requests will likely be denied as well.
"We're confident that the conclusion will be the same, except that it's going to cost a lot of money in legal fees to defend these legal proceedings," Blom said.
Dyer said that on Sept. 8, during an appeal hearing on an unrelated matter, he discovered that e-mail and other items were being destroyed. He said the school board's practice is that members can delete e-mail sent to them at their discretion. The e-mail is kept in a "deleted" folder for about a month, after which the contents are erased.
He said that about two weeks after the appeal hearing, during a Board of Education open meeting, he moved to add an agenda item to consider and vote on whether the board should stop destroying or deleting documents until the board has a policy on retaining written records.
Dyer said his motion did not receive a second, nor did further motions on the matter at subsequent meetings.
Chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles said the school board does not have a policy on deleting communications. However, she added that board members and employees do not delete e-mail that includes documents that need to be kept.
"Every communication we make doesn't need to be retained," she said. "Many of them are things like, 'Can you come to this meeting on Thursday?' If we exchange amongst ourselves the draft agenda for the next meeting, everything gets posted. We don't have to hold onto the draft copies."
Giles added that among the items on the board's agenda is establishing a board-level policy on document retention that would reference items the board is required to keep by law. She expects a public hearing to be held on the matter.
But Dyer said that all records should be retained until that policy is put in place.
"Basically, you're talking apples and oranges. There's the development of the policy and then there's the protection of the data until you have a policy," Dyer said. "My concern, with my lawsuit, is the protection of the data that is currently being destroyed. And that data has to be protected until we have a valid policy."