YUKON — Randy and Debbie Wright never expected to become open records experts. That changed two years ago when the couple began to suspect they were being taken advantage of by a Yukon High School instructor.
Today, in a spare bedroom of their otherwise-spotless house, stacks of documents spill across the carpeted floor, and more boxes and files cover a coffee table and chairs, evidence of the couple's recent immersion in the Open Records Act.
In 2011, the Wrights had discovered that a former Yukon vocational agriculture instructor, Jason Bow, had overcharged them thousands of dollars for a show steer for their daughter, then a student at the high school.
They found others in the program also may have been overcharged.
The Wrights said they first took their suspicions to Superintendent Bill Denton.
“I trusted him, at that point,” Debbie Wright said. “He told us he would handle it.”
The district hired Oklahoma City fraud examiner and attorney Mark Patzkowski to investigate the district's vocational agriculture program, among the largest in the state.
But when Patzkowski submitted the completed report to Denton and Yukon School Board members, district officials decided to keep the document private on the advice of an attorney, Denton said.
Started on Google
As president and a co-owner of Yukon National Bank and a former member of the state Corrections Board, Randy Wright knew a little about open records.
“I knew nothing,” Debbie Wright said. “I just started to Google it and went from there.”
She began to pepper the district with open records requests, was initially ignored and then received material that wasn't responsive to her requests, she said.
After months of feeling stonewalled by the district — which steadfastly refused to turn over Patzkowski's report — the couple filed an open records lawsuit against Yukon Public Schools in January 2012.
Denton said the district always has complied with the Wrights' open records requests, although he admitted the volume of the documents involved has strained his staff.
“They left us no choice,” Debbie Wright said.
The Wrights prevailed.
In July, nearly a year after it was completed, the report was released but not to the Wrights. Instead, the district posted the information on its website.
Months later, a judge also ordered the school district to reimburse the couple $18,000 for attorneys' fees.
The Wrights have filed a lawsuit against Bow, who quit his job with the school district in May 2011. School district emails obtained by the Wrights' attorney show that Bow confessed to Patzkowski that he overcharged the Wrights to make up for financial losses the program suffered when two calves died unexpectedly.
Randy Wright said he and his wife have tried unsuccessfully to work things out with Yukon officials since they discovered they had been overcharged.
“I've asked 17 times to sit across the table and work this out,” he said. “But they don't want to do that. They want to have secrets, I guess.”
But the Wrights aren't giving up. They now are submitting records requests about bidding procedures, financial practices and other areas they have concerns about.
On Thursday, the Wrights received another in a long line of similar letters from the school district. Inside was notification that records they had requested were available for pick up at district headquarters.
“Randy usually goes,” Debbie Wright said.