TCAPS Directors Vote to Release Letter of Complaint Against Former Superintendent After 20 Months of Legal Battle | New
TRAVERSE CITY – Exactly 20 months ago, Ann Cardon signed a separation agreement that would end her short tenure as superintendent of northern Michigan’s largest school district and pay her $ 180,000 to resign.
The Traverse City area public school education board did not officially ratify the deal and the substantial payment until two days later, on October 17, 2019. Despite the relationship ending, the controversy surrounding the unexpected departure of Cardon was only just starting out.
A form of closure of the ordeal came in the opening minutes of Tuesday when directors of TCAPS ‘board of directors voted 6-0 to issue a letter of complaint filed against Cardon that was at the center of public outcry and a lawsuit brought by Record-Eagle against the district and then president of the board of directors, Sue Kelly. Kelly – who drafted the complaint letter and distributed it for the closed-door session on October 7, 2019 – was absent from the meeting on Monday. Nonetheless, TCAPS board chairman Scott Newman-Bale said she supported the board’s decision.
The administrators met behind closed doors for 51 minutes late Monday evening before returning to Conference Room C of the TCAPS Administration Building. The unanimous vote came one minute past midnight and towards the end of the six-hour marathon meeting.
Newman-Bale said the timing was appropriate and symbolic, as the board’s decision signaled a “new day” for TCAPS.
“It was a challenge, but not for lack of will,” Newman-Bale said. “We’re thrilled to finally get to this point. It has been a long road.
Newman-Bale expects the letter to be released to Record-Eagle on Tuesday. The Board of Directors approved the direction of TCAPS attorney Greg Mair to send the letter to Record-Eagle attorney. Newman-Bale said he would call Mair on Tuesday morning with this directive.
The first court order ordering the district to release the letter came almost 11 months ago in July 2020 from 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, but an appeal filed by TCAPS slowed the process down.
It was not until after May 13, when a Michigan Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled that the letter should be made public, that the district and its legal counsel began the publication process. of the document which aroused so much fervor within the TCAPS community.
While TCAPS could have appealed the appeal court’s decision, the board also voted unanimously at the meeting not to take this legal route and instead terminated at least part of the trial.
Vice-chair of the board Erica Moon Mohr, who has fought for the letter’s publication since it was presented to the board for a closed session on October 7, 2019, said the focus was now put on advancement.
“Unfortunately, it took a long time, but it’s the right decision,” said Moon Mohr.
On October 10, 2019, the Record-Eagle submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the complaint letter. TCAPS denied both the request and subsequent appeals regarding the document.
The Record-Eagle, in January 2020, filed a complaint in response to denials and alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act and the FOIA. Elsenheimer and the Michigan Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of the Record-Eagle and said the TCAPS inappropriately asserted that an OMA exemption allowed district officials to protect the letter from requests for FOIA without a court order to release her.
The Court of Appeals ruling set a binding precedent for the state and closed a potential loophole that would have allowed public governing bodies across the state to withhold documents that would otherwise be submitted to FOIA.
“This is an important step in our community’s understanding of how our elected officials behave,” said Record-Eagle editor-in-chief Nate Payne. “Unfortunately, parents, teachers and local taxpayers had to wait 20 months and perform legal backflips to get a glimpse of what we knew to be a public record from the get-go.”
Much of the letter’s content is unlikely to come as a surprise to those who have been following the inflammatory discussion surrounding Cardon’s departure in the fall of 2019.
Emails obtained by the Record-Eagle via other FOIA requests indicate that some district officials were upset. Cardon, who had been in office for less than three months, had yet to meet with the leaders of the teachers’ union. Problems existed between Cardon and former directors Jane Klegman, Jeff Leonhardt and Pam Forton resulting from complaints about the superintendent’s communication skills. Cardon also supported the School Finance Research Collaborative’s school funding equity findings that the TCAPS board publicly repudiated.
Former TCAPS director Bill Smith addressed the board ahead of the letter of complaint being “imminent”. Smith expressed his gratitude to the staff, volunteers and board members who “have handled this whole matter with compassion and integrity, no matter where they approached it.”
“I guess there will be a number of revelations about how we took on a unanimously accepted superintendent and so quickly we fell apart and degenerated into a very destructive time,” Smith said. “The important thing is to study this, to learn how to prevent the enormous destruction that has taken place. Now is not the time to name heroes or villains.
The Record-Eagle will publish the letter of complaint once it is published.