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OPINION

Public deserves full accounting of school lawsuit

The Examiner

Recent legal shenanigans in Blue Springs have revealed gaps in policy and process in Missouri. Those gaps leave the public in the dark about what their elected officials are doing.

Here’s what happened:

Due to the pandemic, Jackson County this fall imposed limits on how many people could attend events such as football games.

The Blue Springs School District initially chose to ignore those limits. The county reached out to say, hey, we’re serious about people’s health on this issue, and there are possible consequences if you persist.

The district’s next choice was to sue. And that worked. The county backed down.

But who paid for that lawsuit? No one is saying.

The district says taxpayers did not pay for it, but rather private donors did. The law firm the district retained also refuses to say who paid for the suit, which also had other individual co-plaintiffs.

The Examiner gave both the school district and the law firm several weeks to answer a simple question – who paid for the lawsuit – and explain their actions. All parties chose not to. The district says the money went directly to the law firm, and the firm says such information can, by professional rules, be confidential.

Public officials need constant reminders of a fundamental point: They act with the public’s money and in the public’s name.

In this case, the good name of the public has been handed over to private, unknown interests. Private interests should not drive the school district’s legal agenda. The public’s name should not be used to advance private interests.

The Board of Education should do some soul-searching, embrace transparency and make sure this kind of action does not occur again.

And the Missouri General Assembly should clean up the law. If a lawsuit has a public entity’s name on it – particularly as the plaintiff – every dime spent on that litigation needs to be disclosed. If it’s private money, fine. Let the public see that and make its own judgments. That’s simply common sense and good government.