By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Alex Heitman’s parents want the Oak Ridge School System to offer specific documents proving their deceased son stole school money to use on himself — but it will evidently cost them more than $2,000.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Heitman was the Oak Ridge School System’s director of business services. An audit, written a year after his 2011 death, and only released last month, reports he took school money. But a few month’s before his reported suicide, Heitman reported the theft of other school money, some of which was used to buy methamphetamine.
His parents, Don and Annette, sent a public records request to the Oak Ridge School System requesting, among several other things, Alex’s cell phone records, cell phone records for his coworkers and W-2s for Alex’s co-workers.
On a website created in honor of their son, Don and Annette Heitman posted what they say is a June 27 letter from the Oak Ridge School System informing them that gathering this information would cost more than $2,000.
“I think $2,000 is a lot of money to ask for this purpose, and I think the intent of asking for this money is to discourage us,” Annette Heitman told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday.
“I’d like to know how they arrived at that estimate.”
Tennessee Watchdog on July 8 mailed an open records request mirroring the Heitmans’.
Oak Ridge School System officials did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
Nashville attorney Charles Cagle, whose law firm is gathering the records on the school system’s behalf, acknowledged receiving Tennessee Watchdog’s request.
Cagle told Tennessee Watchdog that Heitman’s request is too broad, thus explaining the costs of the proposed charges.
“We have 4 1/2 file boxes of emails she requested,” Cagle said — although Heitman said she wasn’t requesting emails.
“The amount of time it will take to redact confidential information, banking information, health information, we expect it to be in excess of $2,000, and those are the rates that are allowable under the public records law.”
In all, Heitmans’ request constitutes nearly 30,000 pieces of paper, Cagle said, adding his law firm charges the school system $200 an hour for this work.
When asked for comment, Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday the price is still too high for what the Heitmans are asking.
Annette Heitman hasn’t officially offered to pay that much just yet.
“If you feel something is extremely important then you will figure out a way to do it, but why put that added pressure or that added anguish on a family?” Heitman asked.
“They have done this treatment to us from the beginning, whether it be law enforcement or now the schools, in terms of making things difficult for us.”
As Tennessee Watchdog reported, the Heitmans are already upset the school system took two years to release an audit, which had information they’ve wanted for almost three years.
Tennessee Comptroller spokesman Blake Fontenay told Tennessee Watchdog the audit was never released upon its initial completion because it was an investigative working paper, exempt from the public records law.
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