October is School Bus Safety Month, which means school bus contractors will go out of their way to show the public that their buses are in compliance with safety standards.
Or more likely, go out of their way to push and shove citizens making these requests out of their office.
That’s exactly what they did to PINAC reporter Jeff Gray this week after he walked into a Student Transportation of America office in Jacksonville, asking to inspect and photograph safety and maintenance records for a particular bus.
Only seconds after Gray walked into the building, making his request, a man named Tyrone Walker told him, “I want you out of my building.”
Gray stepped outside, trying to explain to Walker what he was seeking, but Walker began pushing and shoving him back to his car, telling him, “move your vehicle off my property.”
It turns out, Walker did not own the property, which belongs to Student Transportation of America, the third largest school bus contractor in the country, a company that bills itself as “the most trusted provider in school bus transportation.”
We suspected this was the case, but it was confirmed when a local television news crew entered the same property three days later, asking for the same records, only to be welcomed with open arms.
Jim Piggott of News4Jax even got them to admit they were wrong.
A controversial group that fights for public records and the right to photograph public facilities was rebuffed Tuesday when requesting records on school bus safety.
A member of Photography Is Not A Crime posted a video online, showing him being denied inspection reports from a Duval County school bus contractor. He was thrown off the property.
The records PINAC requested have since been released to News4Jax by the contractor, Student Transportation of America.
By law, each school bus must be inspected monthly, and the report on that inspection is public record. PINAC decided to review the inspection documents as part of school bus safety month.
But PINAC member Jeff Gray was asked to leave the contractor’s Arlington office after he asked to photograph a copy of the safety inspection report for school bus 602.
News4Jax went to the office Friday and asked for the records. Other members of PINAC were also there. The contractor’s manager complied without any problems.
She admitted they made a mistake in denying the records to Gray.
It was a beautiful moment made even more beautiful by the fact that Piggott asked Gray to join him in his request.
Also joining Gray and Piggott were PINAC’s Epic Old Guy, Thomas Covenant, and JC Playford, the latter who normally restricts his rabble-rousing to San Diego.
And while Student Transportation of America is a publicly traded company, not a government agency, it is required by law to comply with public record laws because it is a government contractor.
But we do appreciate them owning up to their mistake, admitting on camera that they’re just not used to people making public records requests, which is something that definitely needs to change.
“To be honest with you, it is something we have never dealt with locally here, ever asking for public records, so we did not deal with it well,” Chris Ingold said.
“I am very honest about that. But we made some calls to our corporate office, and we talked about it. We talked to the district at length, and we are willing to comply. We have nothing to hide. We have an excellent maintenance record.”
News4Jax attorney Ed Brik said the company did the right thing bringing in someone who understood what the company’s obligations were.
“It sounds like they solved the problem,” Birk said. “Under the contract (they have with the county), they have to abide by the public records law.”
Any person can request the public records, including parents who want to know about their child’s school bus.
And that’s why we do these public records audits. To show the public that they can do the same, which is essential in keeping government transparent.
And we certainly appreciate Piggott pointing this out to readers because many people, including government officials as well as citizens, are under the impression that only the corporate media can make these requests, which evidently, they tend not to do.
So we commend Piggott, who has reported on PINAC in the past, for holding their feet to the fire.
Check out both Gray’s initial video along with Piggott’s news report below. If the News4Jax video doesn’t play, check it out here.