TRAVERSE CITY — A lawsuit against Grand Traverse County alleging two appointments to the Traverse Area District Library Board are invalid was withdrawn last week.
David Bieganowski, attorney for Jason Gillman and Patricia Thompson, said his clients agreed to dismiss the case upon the county’s promise to follow a 2013 TADL appointment agreement — which the suit claimed was violated — going forward.
Gillman and Thompson said county commissioners breached the agreement when they appointed Susan Odgers and Stephanie Mathewson by not following some of the criteria outlined in the document.
“(The county) knew it wasn’t being done right,” Bieganowski said.
County Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen said the county agreed to make sure the policy would be followed when making future selections. That does not mean the county is admitting to any wrongdoing regarding the appointments of Odgers and Mathewson, Tholen added.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power OK’d the dismissal on Jan. 27.
“It’s a good result for the county,” Tholen said. “We won’t have to expend any resources in defending it and there won’t be any further action that needs to be taken on the appointments.”
Odgers and Mathewson originally were appointed by the previous Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 19. The newly elected board rescinded Odgers' appointment on Jan. 2, a move Tholen later determined to be ineffective.
At Tholen's recommendation, commissioners subsequently declared the Dec. 19 vote invalid and, on Jan. 16, voted on the appointments for a third time — 7-0 for Mathewson and 6-1 for Odgers.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 17, the same day the TADL Board had its first meeting of 2019 where Odgers and Mathewson were seated.
The TADL Board consists of seven members — five appointed by the county commission and two by the Traverse City Commission, per the 2013 agreement.
There are six libraries within TADL, but only three — the Traverse City, East Bay and Kingsley branches — are controlled by the TADL Board. They are known as “branch libraries.” Fife Lake, Interlochen and Peninsula libraries each has its own elected board, sets its own policies and are known as “member libraries,” according to TADL’s website.
Power on Jan. 18 denied a request to stop the two women from taking their seats on the TADL Board pending the outcome of the case, saying he believed it would do more harm than good.
That ruling led the decision to drop the case, Gillman said.
“Frankly, if we were going to be fighting uphill, it would have been a little more difficult,” he said. Their point was made, Gillman said, and there will be a positive effect going forward.
The fact that Odgers and Mathewson had taken their seats also played into the decision, he said. More of an issue would have been created if, several months down the road, it was determined the appointments weren’t proper, Gillman said.
County Commissioner Betsy Coffia said she is glad, but not surprised, that the lawsuit was dropped on what became a “pretty fraught situation.”
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to learn and improve,” Coffia said. “... I think we need to move forward and focus on getting good folks appointed to these important boards and committees.”
Commissioners will have a chance to do just that fairly soon, as TADL Board Trustee Tom Kachadurian recently resigned, leaving a seat to be filled by the county.
“If I have anything to do with it, we will follow our policy" (in making the next appointment), said Commissioner Rob Hentschel, county board chairperson.
Each area will get fair representation if they policy is followed, he said.