The public might soon find out what’s inside Tempe Union High School District Superintendent James Buchanan’s personnel files — if Phoenix Newspapers is willing to waive its right to have all its attorneys’ fees reimbursed in the case.
After meeting behind closed doors for nearly three hours Monday night, the governing board voted unanimously to discuss terms with Phoenix Newspapers for the "immediate release" of Buchanan’s records. The board did not specify how it would proceed if Phoenix Newspapers insisted on reimbursement of its costs.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the district on Nov. 18 to release Buchanan’s personnel files in response to a lawsuit filed by Phoenix Newspapers in August. In the ruling, Judge Michael Jones ordered the district to pay all court costs and attorneys’ fees in the case.
On Wednesday, the board voted to appeal Jones’ ruling in the Arizona Court of Appeals. Monday night’s action might signal a reversal of that position.
"It’s time we go back to focusing on what our mission is, and that’s learning and excellence," board member Robin Arredondo-Savage said.
The board, however, indicated it would not consider Jones’ ruling binding in any future requests for public records in the district.
"If this issue should ever come before us again, we would fight vigorously to keep your records private," board member Mary Lou Taylor told seven principals gathered at the meeting.
Board President Michelle Helm also said the district will not take any action against Buchanan, who has an order of protection against him by the mother of a district student. Buchanan acknowledged June 25 that he had an affair with the woman, but he has denied allegations of stalking her or violating the order of protection.