TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan Attorney General’s office is expected to name a special prosecutor in the investigation of a Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education trustee.
Michigan State Police Trooper Travis Thenikl completed his inquiry into a possible Open Meetings Act violation by TCAPS board member Erica Moon Mohr, submitted his findings to the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor on Jan. 15, and has been awaiting a response.
That response will be delayed at least a few more weeks.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said she submitted a request to the attorney general’s office last week asking for a special prosecutor to look at the case. Moeggenberg serves on the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Board of Directors with Jayne Mohr, Moon Mohr’s mother-in-law, and has for the past 10 years.
Moeggenberg said the request for a special prosecutor is to “avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
Moon Mohr denied the accusations levied by other trustees and also declined to speak with Thenikl when he asked to interview her in January. Moon Mohr said she was told at the time she would be given an update on the investigation by the beginning of February.
“Here we are in mid-February, and I haven’t heard anything,” Moon Mohr said.
Jay Zelenock, the attorney representing Moon Mohr in any future litigation regarding an OMA violation accusation, called the investigation “meritless” and said he has heard “absolutely nothing” regarding the case in more than a month.
The investigation relates to Moon Mohr’s actions during a special meeting of the TCAPS board that was called on Oct. 11 in the wake of rumors regarding then-Superintendent Ann Cardon’s possible departure. Cardon signed a separation agreement Oct. 15, and the board publicly accepted her resignation and agreed to a $180,000 payout to Cardon on Oct. 17.
Moon Mohr read a statement regarding an Oct. 7 closed session at the beginning of the Oct. 11 meeting. The statement was a version of a letter Moon Mohr sent to four fellow trustees — board President Sue Kelly, and trustees Pam Forton, Jane Klegman and Jeff Leonhardt — on Oct. 10 the Record-Eagle obtained the letter and later confirmed its authenticity with Moon Mohr.
“While I cannot divulge details, what took place in closed session, in my opinion, was an assault on our new superintendent and was absolutely uncalled for. I will not tolerate this. I will not be silenced when the district suffers because of your bad decisions,” Moon Mohr said during the meeting.
As Moon Mohr continued to read and referred to a complaint letter against Cardon — authored by Kelly and presented in the Oct. 7 closed session — Kelly interrupted Moon Mohr and said, “You are talking about closed session. That is illegal, and you are to cease, right now.”
The crowd erupted in boos and shouts that Moon Mohr was not revealing details about the closed session. Kelly settled the audience and once again told Moon Mohr to not speak about what happened in closed session. Moon Mohr continued her statement before TCAPS legal counsel Jeff Butler stopped her and told her that if she is discussing what happened in closed session that she needs to “stand down.”
“If any information you’re about to disclose is about closed session, you need to stand down. OK?” Butler said. “You cannot do that, regardless of it’s in the community or not. Do you understand that?”
Moon Mohr mentioned the letter again while she was talking, and Butler asked what letter she was talking about. Moon Mohr ignored the question and continued reading before Butler interrupted her again.
“You cannot disclose information from a closed session. You are doing it openly. It is a violation of the law for you to continue to do that,” Butler said. “What you said was a direct comment on the content of a closed session meeting. Discontinue disclosing the information. I’m urging you to do that under penalty of the law.”
Neither Kelly, Leonhardt or Klegman returned a call for comment Friday. Multiple attempts to leave a message with Forton on Friday were unsuccessful.
Thenikl’s investigation into the matter began Dec. 4, 2019, according to the complaint and supplemental reports received by the Record-Eagle through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The person who filed the complaint, whose identity was redacted from the report provided by the MSP, met with Thenikl on that date and laid out what she believed to be the situation. Thenikl asked the person to reach out to Kelly so he could contact her and interview her, which he did Dec. 7.
The report states that Kelly said there were “issues that she had been dealing with for a while” and that she wanted to bring them to Cardon’s attention to “see if something could be done about them.” Kelly stated to Thenikl that the closed session was “very professional” and “nothing went wrong and all issues were addressed.” Kelly also stated Moon Mohr was “upset and emotional” during the meeting.
According to the MSP report, Leonhardt told investigators the closed session included trustees “bringing concerns to Ann about not meeting with them.”
Kelly informed Thenikl that she spoke with Cardon at about 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 9 and said Cardon informed her that “she was going to resign from the superintendent role.” Kelly then said she contacted members of the district’s executive team and that they would “start working out an agreement of separation” for Cardon “with terms and payment details.”
Kelly said attorneys were working out a payout plan as early as Oct. 10, and Kelly told Thenikl the board was “accepting a verbal resignation” at that point and that they did not want anything in writing because they did not want information “leaked to the press.”
Kelly also told Thenikl a decision was made late Oct. 10 to discuss Cardon’s resignation during an open meeting the following day.
TCAPS Treasurer Matt Anderson told Thenikl district officials were already in contract negotiations to “figure out what a settlement would be for the superintendent and to get out of her contract” before the Oct. 11 meeting.
Forton, Leonhardt and Klegman — in their statements to Thenikl — called Moon Mohr’s Oct. 11 statement and Oct. 10 letter a “very nonfactual synopsis,” “false,” “lies” and “not even close to what had occurred.”
Anderson said he believes Moon Mohr violated the OMA, but he declined to comment on if he thought she should be prosecuted.
“I don’t know what all the evidence is around that. I’m only one piece of the puzzle,” said Anderson, who made it clear he was not speaking on behalf of the board or the district. “That would be something for the Michigan State Police and the prosecutor’s office to decide.”
Under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, a public official who intentionally violates the act can be personally liable for up to $500 plus court costs in civil case damages, and could face a misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum fine of $1,000. However, intent must be proven to apply criminal charges.
“I absolutely do not believe I violated OMA. I just stood up and said what they did was not OK,” Moon Mohr said. “I was talking about behaviors, but I did not specifically talk about what took place in that closed session.”