Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 10, 2013

TCAPS denies wrongdoing in response to lawsuit

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials’ response to an open meetings violation lawsuit denied wrongdoing and requested reimbursement for the district’s attorney fees and costs from the former Grand Traverse County commissioner who filed the suit.

Jason Gillman, who sued TCAPS last month, called the request for him to pay the district’s attorney costs and fees “a bullying attempt,” which he thinks is standard in such lawsuits.

Gillman accused TCAPS of “misleading the public” as to the time and place of a December Board of Education retreat. Gillman’s complaint stated a calender on TCAPS’ website listed incorrect information about the event.

The district also changed the time, date and location of the retreat without posting public notice at least 18 hours before the event as required by Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, according to Gillman’s complaint.

TCAPS’ response, filed in circuit court by Grand Rapids-based attorney William Vogelzang, Jr., stated the complaint “in its entirety, is frivolous, without legal or factual basis” and is a violation of Michigan court rules regarding proper pleadings.

Vogelzang did not return calls for comment.

At the time of the December retreat the Open Meetings Act did not require online notification of meeting dates and times. It only required public entities to provide notice of special and irregular meetings, including any change to a meeting’s time and location, in a public place at least 18 hours before the event.

TCAPS complied by posting accurate information about the meeting on the front door of the district’s administration building in September, according to the response.

The district additionally notified the public about the time and location of the retreat on multiple occasions, including at a televised board meeting in November, Board of Education President Kelly Hall said last month.

A law approved by Gov. Rick Snyder roughly three weeks after the December retreat amended the Open Meetings Act by requiring public bodies to give 18-hour notice of rescheduled or special meetings at both their principal offices and on any websites that include regularly posted meeting minutes or agendas.

Gillman said the real issue is “a lot of confusion” between information posted at the TCAPS administration building and information posted on the district’s online calendar.

He added most members of the public check the web for meeting information -- not the administration building’s front door -- and said TCAPS’ failure to post meeting changes online violated the amendment added to the Open Meetings Act three weeks after the retreat.

”That would have closed the case and it would have been adjudicated already,” he said.

Gillman also wondered why the response stated TCAPS is not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said the entity TCAPS, listed as the sole defendant in Gillman’s complaint, is not subject to the Open Meetings Act. The district’s Board of Education is.

Cousins declined further comment on the suit.

Pretrial statements in the case are due April 18.