MANATEE -- After receiving a complaint, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office is investigating whether school board member Julie Aranibar violated public records law.
Local parent and Fund Education Now! activist Christine Sket filed the complaint Nov. 8, a few weeks after she asked the district to provide her with text messages sent from board members during the Sept. 10 school board meeting. The text messages of school officials are public record if they pertain to school business.
Sket said she had noticed board members texting during the meeting in which former Superintendent Tim McGonegal's resignation was announced in the wake of a budget crisis.
"I felt that we needed to know who they are talking to," Sket said.
All board members responded to the request, which also included Assistant Superintendent Bob Gagnon and school board attorney John Bowen. Aranibar said because the only texts she had on her phone from that night were between her and her children, she had no information to provide for the request.
But Sket says she later obtained copies of text messages that suggest Aranibar texted Lakewood Ranch High School teacher and former school board candidate Robert Moates during the meeting. She has turned evidence into the sheriff's office and said Tuesday that she will play no further part in the investigation.
Aranibar said she does remember texting Moates, who looked upset that night, for his thoughts during one of the breaks.
She also said that her computer, phone and email were compromised in late September when her iTunes software became corrupted. Both her computer and phone were worked on several times, she said, but data has been missing from both ever since.
The texts were not reported, she said, because they are no longer on her phone.
Aranibar said the text she sent Moates on the evening of Sept. 10, as well as brief texts sent the next day about an item on the consent agenda, would not have applied to Sket's request anyway. The text she sent to Moates that night was a personal one, she said. And since Sket's request was solely for text messages sent during the school board meeting, her texts to Moates the next day were irrelevant.
"I wouldn't have addressed a text for school board work during a school board meeting because I don't do school board work during meetings," Aranibar said. "And asking someone how they are is not school board business."
As of Monday, Aranibar has hired an attorney.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said last week that a detective would be assigned to the case, but he did not know how long an investigation might take. If Aranibar is found to have violated the law, the case would be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office.
Sket said her request was all in the spirit of openness.
"Transparency is more important than ever," Sket said. "That's why I requested it from everyone, not just one school board member."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.