Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 8, 2013

TCAPS, Gillman lawsuit may be settled


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A lawsuit that alleged Traverse City Area Public Schools officials violated state open meetings laws could soon be a thing of the past.

Both sides declined to discuss details of a tentative agreement after a settlement conference in 13th Circuit Court on today, but plaintiff Jason Gillman said he was "happy" the suit is resolved.

"We’ll call it a draw," said Gillman's attorney David Bieganowski. "They didn’t win, we didn’t win. It will end up in a dismissal."

Gillman, a tea party activist and former Grand Traverse County commissioner, 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 TCAPS Superintendent Stephen 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.

TCAPS officials denied violating the state's open meetings laws and said details of the December retreat were appropriately posted on their website. But they acknowledged a clerical error about the meeting date on the website's district calendar. In effect, the website listed two different dates for the meeting.

TCAPS board President Kelly Hall also declined comment on the details of the tentative settlement, but she said school board members will meet in closed session during an Oct. 14 meeting to discuss the lawsuit.

"If there's a possibility of approving a settlement agreement, the board will discuss it in open session," Hall said.

Bieganowski said he expects the settlement will be approved.

"The terms are agreed to and negotiated in good faith," he said. "We assume the board will do what their representatives said they will do."

Cousins said he can't comment on the tentative settlement until board members meet on Oct. 14.

William Vogelzang, a Grand Rapids-based attorney who represented TCAPS in the suit, could not be reached for comment.

Record-Eagle staff writer ANNE STANTON contributed to this report.