Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 15, 2013

TCAPS board approves settlement

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — School officials agreed to pay a portion of the legal bills for a man who alleged Traverse City Area Public Schools violated state open meetings laws.

Plaintiff Jason Gillman, a tea party activist and former Grand Traverse County commissioner, will receive $10,600 from the district’s Lansing-based insurance company, the settlement agreement states.

In exchange, a handful of Open Meetings Act violation charges levied against the district are dropped, and both parties agree TCAPS officials “substantially complied” with government transparency laws, according to the agreement.

We wanted recognition that we had substantially complied with the Open Meetings Act and (the Freedom of Information Act),” TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said. “And once we got there it seemed like it was a waste of district resources to litigate this any further. Let’s get back to focusing on doing work for kids and achieving within our strategic plan.”

Gillman filed a complaint in March that accused TCAPS officials of “misleading the public” as to the time and place of a December board retreat. He amended the complaint in May to additionally accuse Cousins of entering into exchange program “contracts” with two Chinese schools in November, though the district’s Board of Education neither deliberated nor decided in a public meeting to authorize the agreements.

Gillman said his lawsuit achieved his goal of promoting accountability within the district. He said district officials’ subsequent efforts to forge student exchange relationships with Chinese institutions have been “entirely open” and “transparent.”

“That’s what I want,” Gillman said. “I’m going to applaud it. I’m going to give credit where credit is due.”

Board members deliberated in closed session Monday evening for about 30 minutes before unanimously voting to approve the settlement deal.

Board member Megan Crandall said the settlement was about district officials not wasting any more time on the lawsuit.

“It’s not a payment to Mr. Gillman or anything like that,” Crandall said. “It’s just to get this out of our way.”

Cousins said TCAPS spent about $5,000 on deductible payments to its insurance provider during the litigation with Gillman.

Board member Julie Puckett said settling was the “fiscally responsible” thing to do.

“We’re not spending time and money at a trial,” Puckett said. “There’s big money spent at trial. Whether we’re paying it or our insurance company is paying it, there is still a lot of time and money involved.”