TRAVERSE CITY — Failure to disclose how board of education trustees ranked their favorite candidates in the search for a new superintendent at northern Michigan’s largest school district violated the law, a transparency law expert says.
The Monday evening vote by Traverse City Area Public Schools trustees — conducted remotely — briefly fell into discord as two board members levied motions and another attempted to call a re-vote for the second finalist spot.
When the dust settled, John VanWagoner and Denise Herrmann were moved forward for further consideration.
VanWagoner netted 20 points — of 21 possible — followed by Herrmann with 9, current district Associate Superintendent Jame McCall with 7, Rosalie Daca at 6 and Dina Rocheleau with zero. They were chosen via ranked-choice ballots, which were submitted via text message to the meeting’s administrative secretary.
She read out each trustee’s choices, but didn’t elaborate on which candidate each trustee chose as their first, second and third.
Board President Sue Kelly said the rankings were to be disclosed in meeting minutes published Tuesday afternoon. She declined to discuss the meeting further.
In order of preference, Kelly voted for VanWagoner, McCall and Herrmann; Vice President Jeff Leonhardt chose VanWagoner, Daca and Herrmann; Trustee Pam Forton opted for VanWagoner, Daca and McCall; Trustee Matt Anderson voted for VanWagoner, Herrmann and McCall; Trustee Jane Klegman selected VanWagoner, McCall and Daca; Trustee Ben McGuire voted for VanWagoner, Herrmann and McCall; and Trustee Erica Moon Mohr selected Herrmann, VanWagoner and Daca.
But that information being in the minutes isn’t enough under the Open Meetings Act, according to Michigan Press Association Attorney Robin Luce-Herrmann.
“The rankings should be announced at the meeting and in the minutes,” Luce-Herrman said after reviewing the meeting video.
Luce-Herrmann also represents the Record-Eagle in a pending lawsuit against TCAPS over accusations district officials violated both the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act in their handling of former Superintendent Ann Cardon’s departure from the district and the community fallout that followed.
McGuire said any perceived obscurity wasn’t intentional.
“I don’t believe the intention was to hide that from anybody,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think any of us are actually concerned about the tallies being made public.”
It’s the latest in what some community members contend is a string of opaque moves and back-door discussion.
TCAPS parent Deyar Jamil said she was surprised with the meeting’s results — she expected McCall, a controversial candidate from the start, to make the finalist list. Some believe McCall played a role in Cardon’s abrupt resignation from the district in October after only months on the job.
“I think that they were all talking Jame McCall up, they were all basically telling the community that our input means nothing to them,” Jamil said Monday evening, adding that she didn’t appreciate Klegman’s comment during the meeting that those carrying such feelings were acting as a “smear campaign.” “It’s really unfortunate when our elected officials take irrefutable facts that they don’t like and blatantly label them as lies.
“It’s that sort of dysfunction that has held this district back from achieving it’s true potential.”
Klegman, who at one point requested a re-vote for the board’s second finalist, said she’d have preferred Daca or McCall over Herrmann. She also expressed frustration that, under the meeting’s outcome, board members won’t get the chance to further explore either of them as candidates.
“I think that the vocal minority will be happy with this decision — for at least as long as it takes for the board to make a final decision,” Klegman said. “I believe that if whoever the board picks does not align with the vocal minority’s ideas of how TCAPS should be run, that they will start up again attacking whoever we put into the superintendent position.”
VanWagoner began his career with the Michigan Department of Education, where he eventually rose to the level of legislative director. He then moved on to an associate superintendent at an intermediate school district, and now works as superintendent of Alpena Public Schools.
Herrmann entered the race as a last-minute semi-finalist after another candidate dropped out.
She works as superintendent of the Roseville Junior Union High School District in California. The school system is roughly TCAPS’ size. She said during Saturday’s interviews she hopes to move closer to family in the Midwest.
Despite the meeting’s hiccups, Jamil called Monday’s decision a step in the right direction.
“I personally found Dr. Herrmann and Dr. VanWagoner to be very highly qualified and innovative,” she said. “I think they come with excellent credentials and most importantly, they will bring a fresh perspective to this district that is tired of what we have been experiencing for too long.”
The two finalists will go through another interview before a decision is made. The “fit to district” portion of interviews may be adjusted pending government guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic in coming weeks, Kelly said Monday.
Trustees Leonhardt, Anderson and Forton either declined comment or did not return a call for comment. TCAPS Attorney Nancy Mullett also did not return a call Tuesday.
See updates at www.record-eagle.com.