Note: This article was written by ROBIN READER (612) and was originally published on her website Broken Arrow Forum on December 12, 2010, and reappears here on this blog with her permission.
Reynolds tried to get out of his deposition, claiming that he had legislative immunity because he had undertaken an investigation into Broken Arrow Schools in his legislative capacity.
He cited the state constitution’s speech and debate clause, which states that legislators are immune from lawsuits calling for judicial inquiry into their performance “within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity.”
Reynolds claimed that he personally undertook an investigation into the unused sick leave in his capacity as a state representative, and that means that no one can ask him any questions relating to Sisney’s lawsuit.
That didn’t work to get him out of his deposition, since he is not the defendant in the case, and issuing press releases is not a legislative matter.
But let’s look at the investigation he personally undertook into Broken Arrow Schools.
Investigative work: Received listings of school employee pay records illegally obtained by a superintendent who had been fired
Reynolds’ action: Issued a press release stating that Broken Arrow Schools had paid thousands of dollars in illegal sick pay (1/30/2009)
Investigative work: Received an illegally obtained confidential memo from the District’s attorney advising that the payments be discontinued because the law didn’t specifically provide for them.
Reynolds’ action: Issued a press release (5/5/2009) claiming that BA Schools’ attorney had contradicted his own advice, based on an illegally obtained confidential memo
Reynolds claimed in his deposition that:
He didn’t verify the accuracy of the documents before issuing the press release
> He said that he verified it by first making the public accusations, then talking to the interim superintendent and deciding from the tone of his voice whether the information was accurate.
He didn’t research the law that was supposedly broken or get a legal opinion on it
> The sick pay benefit did not violate the law; it was part of legal, negotiated, and approved benefits.
He didn’t find out when the benefit was active in Broken Arrow
> It was discontinued 5 years before he issued his press release. At the time of his deposition 8 months later, he was still unaware that it had been discontinued. Really. Page 119, right after he says he is “highly interested in the sick pay issue”.
He didn’t look into any other school district that had this same benefit
> It was a common benefit in many school districts across Oklahoma. Reynolds mentioned only Broken Arrow, and began researching other school districts in September 2010 (over a year and a half after his press release, a few days before his deposition). He got as far as checking two school districts, one of which is coincidentally the one represented by Phyllis Walta, who is the attorney for the board members, and is the one who served Reynolds to appear at his deposition.
He didn’t question the motives or integrity of the source of the information.
> The source was a superintendent who had been fired after threatening board members and making false accusations in the media; he was actively engaged in a contentious legal and media battle against Broken Arrow schools. Reynolds claimed not to know anything about this. The fired superintendent had an employee compile the records before he was fired; he took them and the confidential memo without an Open Records request. Reynolds was not concerned that the information was illegally obtained.
He didn’t know why he named two people out of hundreds who received the benefit.
> The two people he named out of hundreds were 1) the replacement superintendent, who was a target of the fired superintendent’s PR attacks and who the ex-superintendent had tried to fire; 2) the only candidate in a days-away school board election days who was not an active supporter of the fired superintendent. The attorney he attacked was fired by the ex-superintendent and hired back over his strong objections.
Investigative work: Talked to Steve Burrage and found that the audit had been submitted to the attorney general’s office.
Reynolds’ action: Issued a press release stating that the audit being reviewed by the attorney general indicated criminal activity (April 26, 2010); that Jim Sisney had been fired in 2007
Issued a press release (May 5, 2010) saying that computers had been seized and subpoenas issued at Broken Arrow Schools, indicating serious trouble at BA Schools.
Reynolds claimed in his deposition that:
His only basis for the statement that the AG’s review indicated criminal activity was a conversation with Burrage. He did not talk with the AG or anyone else involved (he claims), and he did not try to find out what the normal process is before he announced in the press that there must be criminal activity if it went to the AG.
> Audits of public schools are always reviewed by the attorney general’s office. The auditor’s office does not make the call on whether there is criminal activity.
> Jim Sisney was fired in 2008, not 2007, but Reynolds stated that he doesn’t know any of the circumstances of Sisney’s firing, and that he doesn’t care.
His only basis for the statement about computers and subpoenas was a newspaper story he read.
> Computers were seized and subpoenas were issued. These things happened months earlier, as part of the investigation and audit. They were not as a result of the AG seeing the audit, as Reynolds tried to imply. One of the computers seized was Sisney’s; that’s where the deleted emails came from. This was old news. Reynolds engineered the timing intentionally to give a false impression.
> Even in the fictional audit based on the contributions of Sisney supporters, the AG didn’t see anything that warranted charges against the board members, Air Assurance, or any school employees.
Investigative work: Talked with Sherri Combs on 8/13, 14, or 15, in which she said that she was being pressured to remove things from the audit.
Reynolds’ action: Held a press conference (8/13/2010) to object to certain things being removed from the audit: allegations of bid splitting, the shredding of documents and altered school board minutes.
Reynolds claimed in his deposition:
He doesn’t know or care what was in the audit (Pg 38);
He wasn’t paying particular attention to the particulars of the audit (pg 39)
He doesn’t recall any specifics of things that would be removed or not be removed (pg 39)
- He was not interested in who was or was not interviewed (pg 40)
- He did NOT issue a press release as a result of his conversation with Ms. Combs (he may be denying this on a technicality; it was a press conference, not a release) (pg 40)
- He did not talk with anyone else from the auditor’s office, the school district, or the AG about things being removed from the audit (pg 41)
- He had no knowledge of or interest in the audit contents or anything supposedly being removed, not even the specific things he knew to mention but did not get from Sherri Combs: (bid splitting, shredding, school board minutes)
Investigative work: Received a pack of documents and an audio tape from an unknown source; these were supposedly brought to his attorney’s office by an anonymous man
Reynolds’ action: Immediately (the same day) posted the documents and audio tape on the House of Representatives FTP site
Informed his media contacts to come and get it
Reynolds claimed in his deposition:
- He didn’t know where the documents had come from
- He didn’t try to find out who had provided the documents
- He didn’t know if they were accurate
- He did nothing to try to verify their accuracy
- His method of verifying the accuracy of the documents was to release them to the public first, then see if Burrage denied their accuracy, which he wouldn’t have believed anyway because he doesn’t trust Burrage
- He didn’t check to see if it was legal to publicize the confidential documents and secretly taped audio recordings
- He didn’t check to see if it was against House rules to use their FTP site to publicize unverified, defamatory information that is not House business
- The House FTP site was shut down within days of his misuse of it
This is how Reynolds “personally undertakes an investigation in his legislative capacity”? He repeated several times in his deposition that all he is interested in is the sick pay, which clearly he knew nothing about, and the length of time the audit took. His “personal investigation” consisted of nothing but receiving information from dubious sources and immediately broadcasting it to the media. By his own admission, no investigative work whatsoever was done.
He does have some lofty-sounding words for us:
“I think the public deserves the right to know what’s going on in the Broken Arrow School District…I think it is appropriate that the public have as much information about exposing fraud and corruption in their government as they can possibly get.”
So do I, Rep. Reynolds. We have certainly learned a lot about fraud and corruption in our government from you.