TRAVERSE CITY — All was quiet on the northern Michigan front for the first few months of Ann Cardon’s tenure at Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Then Oct. 11 happened.
Rumors of Cardon’s impending exit as TCAPS superintendent spread through the community. A last-minute meeting called for the board to receive an attorney-client privileged communication drew more than 100 people. One trustee, Erica Moon Mohr, accused other trustees of “bullying” Cardon.
That letter and the board’s alleged mishandling of and secrecy surrounding Cardon’s exit along with a lawsuit from the Record-Eagle alleging Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act violations are front and center of the 2020 TCAPS board race.
Six candidates are vying for three seats. Incumbents Jane Klegman, Jeff Leonhardt and Ben McGuire. Challengers Josey Ballenger, Flournoy Humphreys and Scott Newman-Bale.
TCAPS attorney Nancy Mullett claimed the complaint letter could only be released via a court order after the district denied a Record-Eagle FOIA request and appeal for its release.
Trustees said they would release the letter if ordered by the court.
A 13th Circuit Court judge ordered the release of the letter, but TCAPS legal counsel has since appealed the ruling. The court proceedings regarding allegations of other OMA and FOIA violations continue.
The fight to secure the letter’s release is more than a year old. Ballenger, Humphreys and Newman-Bale hoped the letter would come out before the Nov. 3 election, but that hope fades as the process drags on.
“I wish they’d (release the letter) within the hour,” Humphreys said. “Our school board has behaved badly, and they need to know they can’t get away with it.”
Newman-Bale doesn’t understand all the cloak and dagger. He expects the complaints to be “some slightly unpleasant pettiness, but nothing criminal.”
Newman-Bale said he would push for transparency if elected.
“They’re dragging themselves through the mud,” he said. “I want it to end. We’re all curious, and more curious than we should be because of the way it’s dragged out.”
The three challengers also called into question the treatment of Moon Mohr, including the revelation that Mullett filed a complaint against Moon Mohr with the Michigan State Police alleging OMA violations related to the Oct. 11 meeting.
Ballenger called it a conflict of interest and said Moon Mohr was entitled to proper legal counsel from an attorney meant to represent the board and individual board members — not pursue criminal charges against those board members.
Humphreys said Moon Mohr’s Oct. 11 actions “put the spotlight” on some of the perceived wrongdoings by the board.
“Those backdoor dealings needed to be out in the open,” she said.
Newman-Bale said he could not think of anyone “more problematic” to file a criminal complaint against a sitting board member than the board’s legal counsel.
“I hope there is something that I’ve not thought of that can make this even remotely justifiable,” he said.
McGuire declined to comment specifically on the issue, but he said board business needs to be about students and staff. Anything outside of that makes the board the story.
“That really takes away from our ability to do the job that the community elects us for,” he said. “It’s a symptom of a dysfunctional board.”
Incumbent candidates Jeff Leonhardt and Jane Klegman did not respond to or declined multiple requests for comment.