Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 5, 2013

Hearing date set in TCAPS open meetings lawsuit

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A scheduled hearing this month in an open meetings law dispute between Traverse City Area Public Schools and a former Grand Traverse County commissioner has been delayed.

TCAPS attorneys want the lawsuit that accuses the district of violating Michigan’s Open Meetings Act dismissed. Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power was slated to hear arguments on July 22, but the hearing has been swtiched to a later date.

A motion to dismiss the suit, filed by TCAPS attorneys June 19, asked Power to sanction Gillman “for filing a frivolous claim against Defendant, TCAPS.” It also requested Gillman pay the district’s court costs and fees.

Gillman said Power should not dismiss the suit. He also questioned how court-imposed sanctions would affect future enforcement of state open meeting laws.

“Can you imagine the chilling effect that would have?” Gillman said.

Michigan’s Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to conduct nearly all business at public meetings.

Gillman originally filed a complaint in March that accused district officials of “misleading the public” as to the time and place of a December board retreat.

Gillman amended the complaint in May to additionally accuse TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins of entering into exchange program “contracts” with two Chinese schools in November, even though the district’s Board of Education neither deliberated nor decided in a public meeting to authorize the agreements.

TCAPS attorneys stated in court records that Gillman’s lawsuit “in its entirety, is frivolous, without legal or factual basis.”

The motion to dismiss stated Gillman’s complaint improperly names TCAPS the district as a defendant.

“Plaintiff’s claims are limited to the TCAPS Board of Education as a collective body,” the motion states. “Defendant, TCAPS, should be dismissed without prejudice.”

The motion also argued Gillman filed at least one of his charges after the Open Meeting Act’s statute of limitations expired.

Gillman said he anticipated the July 22 hearing would be delayed because TCAPS attorneys requested an extension of the discovery deadline.

Cousins and TCAPS attorney Kara Rozin, of the Grand Rapids-based firm Kluczynski, Girtz and Vogelzang, could not be reached for comment.