TRAVERSE CITY — The campaign to recall three Traverse City Area Public Schools trustees continues forward. As does the effort demanding more transparency and accountability from those leading the largest school district in northern Michigan.
The unexpected resignation of former TCAPS Superintendent Ann Cardon less than 80 days into her tenure — the result of a mutual separation agreement and a $180,000 payout — remains somewhat shrouded in mystery and served as the jumping off point for both movements.
But both sides believe there is more to this than just Cardon’s departure. Some siding with TCAPS and the majority of the board of education question the true motivation of those involved in these movements. Others point out the “vocal minority” is made up of the same cast of characters that have been beating down TCAPS doors for years and those with previous run-ins with the district.
TCAPS Board President Sue Kelly, who is one of the three trustees facing a recall effort along with Matt Anderson and Pam Forton, said the public outcry is a result of people reacting to untrue information, which Kelly said previously she cannot correct because of laws governing the Open Meetings Act. Kelly said there are so many untruths out there that it is hard to keep up.
“I don’t know what axes anyone has to grind against me or against Matt or against Pam,” Kelly said. “It seems to be a bigger district-wide issue that people possibly hold personally against us. People were talking from the podium during public comment that was just grossly untrue. When people continue to stand up and saying stuff that’s not true, you have to wonder why.”
Anderson has openly questioned why he is even being recalled, citing that he was not present for the now infamous Oct. 7 closed session, which precipitated Cardon’s resignation and what trustee Erica Moon Mohr called an “assault on Ann.” Anderson was out of town on business at the time and said previously he wished he could have gotten back in time to settle things down before word of Cardon leaving hit public ears and set off the firestorm.
Anderson believes the uproar pushed the situation past the point of no return, but communications between district officials and Cardon gained through a records request show work was being done on Cardon’s exit within a day or two after the closed session and before the public knew.
Now, he sees the recall effort as a power grab and that three trustees needed to be recalled so “they could gain control of the board.”
“Originally, it was, ‘Oh, these four people are the ones behind this,’” Anderson said, referring to the initial calls to remove Kelly, Forton, Jeff Leonhardt and Jane Klegman.
When it was learned neither Klegman nor Leonhardt were eligible to be recalled because they’re in the final year of their term, the focus moved to recall Anderson.
“All of a sudden, I’m included,” he said. “I don’t know why other than it’s a numbers game and they want to take the board over. It’s pretty apparent from my perspective.”
Justin Van Rheenen, the petitioner on the recall efforts and a co-founder of TCAPS Transparency, said the movement is about improving the district and the quality of education for the students and the environment for the teachers.
TCAPS Transparency, which is in the process of being filed as a 501©3 organization, is built upon three pillars, Van Rheenen said — appropriate transparency for a school board and an educational system, best governance and fiscal responsibility.
Van Rheenen said the recall effort has not cost them any money yet and that the initiatives have been built on volunteer work. Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele confirmed no TCAPS Transparency financial records with the county, and Van Rheenen said they have not filed any financial records with the state because there is nothing to file.
Van Rheenen also said no money donated to TCAPS Transparency will be used on the recall efforts or any political campaigns in the future.
“Never on any planet,” he said.
The only money that has been raised publicly so far was to cover a Freedom of Information Act request bill for $1,903 from TCAPS, said Deyar Jamil, a former candidate for the TCAPS board. Jamil, in 2018, started a GoFundMe campaign, which garnered donations from 19 people. A separate FOIA bill north of $2,400 remains unpaid, Jamil said.
Jamil was part of the Team5TCAPS slate of candidates that ran in 2018 along with Moon Mohr, Rhonda Busch, Cathy Meyer Looze and Patricia Henkel. Jamil said she has no intention of running for a board seat and is under the impression that neither Busch nor Meyer Looze will either. She said this is far beyond any personal ax to grind.
“My only ax to grind is with the people who refuse to operate this school district as a public school district and allow the public to be involved,” Jamil said. “Ann Cardon is only a symptom of a greater disease these people are inflicting on our school district. They run it as if it’s their own private corporation, and they’re indignant when we ask questions or demand accountability.”